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More than 140,000 die from measles as cases surge worldwide



More than 140,000 people died globally from measles in 2018, according to new estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).

These deaths occurred as measles cases surged globally, amidst devastating outbreaks in all regions.

Most deaths were among children under five years of age. Babies and very young children are at greatest risk from measles infections, with potential complications including pneumonia and encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, as well as lifelong disability, permanent brain damage, blindness or hearing loss.


Recently published evidence shows that contracting the measles virus can have further long-term health impacts, with the virus damaging the immune system’s memory for months or even years following infection. This ‘immune amnesia’ leaves survivors vulnerable to other potentially deadly diseases, like influenza or severe diarrhoea, by harming the body’s immune defenses.

Director General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, said the fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children.

“To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines – which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all.”

Measles is preventable through vaccination. However, vaccination rates globally have stagnated for almost a decade. WHO and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 86 per cent of children globally received the first dose of measles vaccine through their country’s routine vaccination services in 2018, and fewer than 70 per cent received the second recommended dose.

Worldwide, coverage with measles vaccine is not adequate to prevent outbreaks. WHO recommends that 95 per cent vaccination coverage with two doses of measles vaccine is needed in each country and all communities to protect populations from the disease.

The report further stated that in 2018, the most affected countries – the countries with the highest incidence rate of the disease – were Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine. These five countries accounted for almost half of all measles cases worldwide.

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