Measles cases reached the highest level in 23 years in 2019 and health authorities warned that many countries aren’t vaccinating enough people amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The global total for confirmed measles infections rose to 869,770 last year, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control said in a report released Thursday. The number of deaths soared by 50% compared with a low reached in 2016.
The percentage of people who have received a first measles shot has stagnated in recent years and the coronavirus pandemic is now lowering vaccination rates by halting immunization campaigns, putting 94 million people at risk, according to the WHO.
The situation is like an increasing amount of tinder that could result in a “forest fire,” Natasha Crowcroft, a senior technical officer on measles at the WHO, said on a call with journalists.
Nine countries represented 73% of all cases, with large outbreaks occurring in Congo, Madagascar, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, according to Crowcroft. The airborne disease caused 207,500 deaths last year.
“Measles is entirely preventable,” Seth Berkley, head of the vaccine group Gavi, said in a statement. “In a time in which we have a powerful, safe and cost-effective vaccine nobody should still be dying of this disease.”
For this year, the number of measles cases has dropped, mirroring declines in other infectious diseases. The precautions people take against Covid-19 are also effective in reducing the spread of viruses in general.