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Montevideo, April 12th 2024 - 10:38 UTC



WHO warns against an increase in the number of cases of measles

Thursday, February 22nd 2024 - 10:21 UTC
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Crowcroft spoke of huge underreporting of the total number of cases worldwide Crowcroft spoke of huge underreporting of the total number of cases worldwide

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned this week of a 79% global increase in the number of cases of measles, “a childhood illness caused by a virus that easily spreads among people and can be very harmful to children,” of which over 300,000 detections were recorded last year.

WHO's technical advisor for measles and rubella Natasha Crowcroft explained that the United Nations (UN) agency was “extremely concerned about what is happening in five of the six regions monitored by the” organization. The latest figures represent an increase of 79% from the previous year, she also explained, as 51 countries reported major outbreaks of the disease compared to 32 in 2022.

The UN health agency models the numbers each year, with its latest estimate indicating there were 9.2 million cases and 136,216 measles deaths in 2022. Crowcroft pointed out that 2022 had already seen a jump in deaths from the year before. The expert also admitted the official figures accounted for just a part of the problem given the considerable underreporting in this regard. It is estimated that in 2022, measles-caused deaths increased by 43%. “As cases increased in 2023, we are anticipating that by the time we close the data, the number of deaths will also have increased,” Crowcroft noted.

“Looking ahead to 2024, we know it will be a very challenging year,” given the number of unvaccinated children. The WHO estimates that more than half of the world's countries will be classified as high risk or very high risk for outbreaks of the disease by the end of the year. The WHO estimates that 142 million children are vulnerable to measles because they have not been vaccinated, 62% of whom live in low- and middle-income countries, where the risk of outbreaks of the disease is higher.

Crowcroft also recalled that during the Covid-19 pandemic, many children were not immunized against measles. Currently, global vaccination coverage against the disease stands at 83% which, she said, is not enough, since the disease is highly contagious. “We need 95% coverage to prevent measles cases from happening,” she said.

In 2016, Brazil was certified as having eliminated measles by the WHO. In 2018, however, the virus started circulating again in the country, and, in 2019, after a year of clear measles circulation, the country lost its certification as a measles-free country, Agencia Brasil reported. Between 2018 and 2022, 9,325, 20,901, 8,100, 676, and 44 cases of measles were confirmed in Brazil, respectively.

Measles is a serious infectious disease that can lead to death. Transmission occurs when an infected person coughs, talks, sneezes or breathes close to other people. The main signs are red spots on the body and a high fever (above 38.5°C) accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms: dry cough, eye irritation (conjunctivitis), runny or blocked nose, and intense malaise. After the appearance of the spots, the persistence of fever is a warning sign and can indicate seriousness, especially in children under 5.

Other signs are small white spots inside the mouth and a rash that starts on the face, the WHO said in a bulletin. “Getting the measles vaccine is highly effective in safeguarding both individuals and entire communities,” the WHO document also noted. Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhea, and severe respiratory infections. Crowcroft pointed out that 92% of all children who die from measles live among less than a quarter of the global population, mainly in very low-income countries.

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