More than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide in the first quarter of 2019, UNICEF revealed today, adding that these figures represent a 300 percent hike from the same period last year.
"The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. "The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike."
An estimated 169 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, the UN children's fund noted. That's an average of 21.1 million children per year, with widening pockets of unvaccinated children creating pathways for measles outbreaks.
An estimated 110,000 people, most of them children, died from measles in 2017, a 22 percent increase from the year before.
Two doses of the measles vaccine are essential to protect children from the disease. However, due to lack of access, weak health systems, complacency, and in some cases fear or scepticism about vaccines, the global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine was reported at 85 percent in 2017, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the last decade despite population growth.
Global coverage for the second dose is much lower, at 67 percent. The World Health Organisation recommends a threshold of 95 percent immunisation coverage to achieve so-called ‘herd immunity’.
In high-income countries, while coverage with the first dose is 94 percent, coverage for the second dose drops to 91 percent, according to the latest data.
The United States tops the list of high-income countries with the most children not receiving the first dose of the vaccine between 2010 and 2017, at more than 2.5 million. It is followed by France and the United Kingdom, with over 600,000 and 500,000 unvaccinated infants, respectively, during the same period.
In low- and middle-income countries, the situation is critical. In 2017, for example, Nigeria had the highest number of children under one year of age who missed out on the first dose, at nearly four million. It was followed by India (2.9 million), Pakistan and Indonesia (1.2 million each), and Ethiopia (1.1 million).
Worldwide coverage levels of the second dose of the measles vaccines are even more alarming. Of the top 20 countries with the largest number of unvaccinated children in 2017, nine have not introduced the second dose.
Twenty-countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not introduced the necessary second dose in the national vaccination schedule, putting over 17 million infants a year at a higher risk of measles during their childhood.