Viral Outbreaks During COVID-19While COVID-19 has received much attention in the global health discussion, many developing countries continue to fight other viral outbreaks. This highlights why foreign aid is so crucial. Although COVID-19 has affected every nation, some countries will suffer more than others. This article will highlight three of the deadliest viral outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic that have been announced by the WHO in 2020 and the current, global efforts to combat them.

Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Since the largest Ebola outbreak killed 11,000 people in West Africa during 2014–2016, the virus has been successfully contained in most countries. This, thanks to the efforts of front-line workers and organizations, such as the WHO.

However, the DRC has been fighting its 10th outbreak since August 2018. As of June 2020, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has infected 3,470 and killed 2,280 people. In 2019, the WHO named the viral outbreak a global health emergency. Then, in April 2020, just as the Ministry of Health neared the end of the countdown to end EVD, there was a new outbreak in the city of Mbandaka.

In the DRC, EVD has a current fatality rate of more than 60%, which is more than five times that of the new coronavirus or influenza. However, the transmission rate is much lower. Advancements in vaccines and “CUBE” containment rooms have helped stop the spread of the Ebola virus. By vaccinating more than 14,000 health workers in neighboring countries, the WHO contained the disease in the DRC. Yet notably, the organization stresses that controlling the epidemic requires more international collaboration and support.

Measles in Africa, South and Central America and Beyond

In addition to COVID-19 and Ebola, the DRC is also battling the world’s largest measles epidemic. Another of the viral outbreaks, which started during COVID-19 (in 2019) and infected around 300,000 people. Since then, the numbers are fewer in the DRC. In 2020 however, more measles outbreaks surfaced in Burundi and the Central African Republic. Additionally, new outbreaks resurfaced in Mexico, while Brazil still recovered from an outbreak of measles in 2019 that infected over 50,000 people in Sao Paulo. The virus has also emerged in Asia and Eastern Europe in 2019.

Similar to the new coronavirus, the measles virus has a high transmission rate and causes complications in a minority of infected individuals. War and displacement also contribute to the spread of the disease. In Burundi, the outbreak started in a refugee camp where refugees from the DRC were thought to have carried it into the country. Other factors such as malnutrition also contributed to the increased mortality rate of measles in these areas.

Yellow Fever in Africa

This mosquito-spread disease is endemic to tropical parts of Africa as well as South and Central America. However, the majority of outbreaks occur in sub-Saharan Africa where 610 million people are at risk of contracting the virus. Yellow fever has long been a challenge in these areas where it infects around 200,000 and kills 30,000 — every year. For instance, in 2020 alone, reports indicated new viral outbreaks of yellow fever in five African countries.

A safe and effective vaccine has been developed and helped reduce outbreaks in the 20th century. However, due to shortages of the vaccine and poor government implementation, the majority of the population does not receive it. Alternatively, it is usually only compulsory for travelers. Furthermore, since the virus is re-occurring, more research is required to keep adapting the vaccine to different strains of yellow fever.

The Takeaway

As evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, viral outbreaks are disruptive and have major economic and social consequences. Poor health reduces the life-span, productivity and life satisfaction of any population. These effects usually fall hardest on the world’s poor — who have less access to treatments or safe water access and sanitation.

Due to the commoditization of the pharmaceutical industry, the populations that need medical intervention most receive it the least. This is simply because they can not afford such expensive treatment. Specific antiviral treatments rarely exist. The best method to reduce the impact of viral outbreaks in impoverished countries is by building better healthcare systems and reducing poverty. As stated by Tedros Adhanom, director of the WHO, “Unless we address [the] root causes – the weak health system, the insecurity and the political instability – there will be another outbreak.”

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Measles in the Central African Republic
Measles is a viral infection spread through airborne respiratory droplets from an infected individual. Measles can cause typical flu-like symptoms and a skin rash, and, under certain circumstances, it can lead to death. While the illness is virtually obsolete in more developed countries, other countries, such as the Central African Republic, struggle with keeping it at bay. Here are four important facts you should know about measles in the Central African Republic.

4 Facts About Measles in the Central African Republic

  1. Measles primarily affects children. The viral infection is especially taxing on those with weakened immune systems. Thus, children, especially those who are malnourished or HIV-positive, are more likely to become infected and die from the measles. In 2017, only 49% of Central African children under five years of age received vaccinations against measles. In the resurgence of measles in 2019, 90% of cases in the Central African Republic affected children aged 10 or younger. Although a safe vaccine is available, many Central African families have been displaced, live in rural areas or do not have access to a nearby healthcare center. With the help of foreign aid, the government can initiate more vaccinations and widespread awareness – two critical components in combating measles.
  2. The fight against measles in the Central African Republic is ongoing. For more than 40 years, Central African citizens have struggled with measles. The epidemic is a health crisis and is at the top of the country’s political priorities. In 2014, with the help of the Red Cross and the United Nations, the government of the Central African Republic rolled out a vaccination campaign. It aimed to provide free measles vaccines for more than 115,000 children. However, in January 2019, a resurgence of the measles appeared in the Central African Republic. Since then, the citizens have been fighting widespread outbreaks of the disease. From January 2019 to February 2020, there were more than 7,000 new cases of the measles and 83 deaths.
  3. Vaccines are hard to distribute in the Central African Republic’s war-torn political climate. As of 2017, nearly 900,000 Central Africans had fled violence and unrest. More than half of these displaced people were children. Children and adults are more likely to contract measles and die if they are subjected to overcrowding, malnutrition, immunosuppression or poor healthcare systems. The political turmoil throughout the country can cause these factors to become more prevalent and inhibit effective immunizations. Furthermore, the looting and closing of healthcare facilities across the country has stifled the progress made by previous vaccination campaigns.
  4. The government is working with other international organizations to eradicate measles in the Central African Republic. As a response to the recent outbreaks, the Ministry of Health partnered with the World Health Organization to develop specialized courses of action and vaccination campaigns. They have increased epidemiological tracing, communication about the disease’s risks and vaccination and medicine availability. Additionally, the Center for Emergency Operations in Public Health has aided government officials in devising plans for dealing with outbreaks. Another important international program is Gavi, an alliance that promotes free access to vaccinations all over the globe. Gavi has helped the Central African Republic fund measles treatment and follow-up vaccines by donating more than $1 million to the cause. Similarly, USAID has helped in the fight against measles by making financial donations that fund testing and vaccinations.

Although the prevalence of measles in the Central African Republic is serious, the government and other organizations are committed to fighting it. Moving forward, continued efforts are needed to reduce the prevalence of measles in the nation.

– Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

measles in democratic republic of congoThe Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a measles outbreak in June 2019. Since then, more than 310,000 have been affected by this epidemic. Measles is an extremely contagious and airborne disease that can cause rashes, fevers and coughing. The virus is especially dangerous for children. Most developed countries can combat measles through vaccinations, but developing countries aren’t able to fully eradicate and achieve a herd immunity of a sizeable population majority, leading to constant outbreaks.

How COVID-19 is Affecting the Situation

Due to COVID-19, more than 117 million children could not receive their measles vaccine following the halt of vaccination campaigns. Measles may kill more people in developing countries than COVID-19 if outbreaks continue. At least 6,500 children have already died from measles in the DRC. Most world leaders are focusing on COVID-19 rather than the vaccine-preventable diseases that could potentially wreak havoc on developing nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently leading the world in the highest numbers of measles cases. This trend is likely to continue without significant aid and the continuation of vaccination campaigns. The DRC also has an incredibly weak healthcare system, so it greatly relies on NGOs and foreign aid to administer vaccines & life-saving medicines to the country.

Other Diseases in the DRC

In addition to measles, the DRC is currently combating cholera, polio, COVID-19 and Ebola. “On June 1, 2020, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared its eleventh Ebola outbreak.” This is before the tenth outbreak was declared over on June 25, 2020; however, WHO has stated that these two outbreaks are separate. Due to the limited resources caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this outbreak will be harder to contain than previous outbreaks.

In the past, multiple Ebola outbreaks have drawn more attention than the measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now, COVID-19 is drawing more attention than measles. However, all three diseases need to be dealt with alongside the other diseases harming the DRC. During an Ebola outbreak in earlier months, measles was overlooked, which led to a resurgence. Measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must receive the attention necessary to combat it. In addition to the disease itself, the DRC is also suffering from malnutrition, food insecurity and economic uncertainty. All of these factors make the population more vulnerable to other diseases, particularly children.

How To Help

The best way to help combat measles in the DRC is to ensure vaccination campaigns can start again. An increase in foreign aid will help the nation reach this goal. The DRC needs to achieve 95% vaccination to recover, but that goal seems incredibly unlikely due to the current COVID-19 panic. With the majority of the world also focused on COVID-19, it is unlikely that the DRC will receive all the international aid they require at this time. An additional $40 million will be needed on top of the $27.6 million received to successfully fight measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Organizations like Doctors Without Borders are continuously working to fight measles outbreaks in DRC. As of June 2020, the organization has succeeded in vaccinating 82,000 children after “three back-to-back campaigns.” Doctors Without Borders cautions the world that measles cannot be ignored even with the current COVID-19 crisis. They are taking extra precautions during this time to reduce the risk of co-infection.

While COVID-19 is an important and urgent issue, it is imperative that leaders continue to send help to those abroad struggling with the fall-outs of poverty whenever possible. Measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one example of how important foreign assistance and vaccination campaigns are in saving lives in developing countries.

– Jacquelyn Burrer
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Burundi
Burundi is a landlocked country in East Africa with a dense population of 11.89 million people. Due to overpopulation, an ongoing humanitarian crisis and more than 73% of the population in poverty, healthcare in Burundi is unstable, and the people of Burundi are highly susceptible to the wide variety of diseases that are plaguing the country. 

Current Health Risks in Burundi

Accessibility to healthcare in Burundi continues to be an issue for civilians, shown through the rise in deaths that diseases and epidemics caused. COVID-19 has affected the country as a whole and posed a threat to the already fragile healthcare system with records of 104 cases and one death as of June 16, 2020, although the need for more resources and vaccines was already in question long before this specific virus. Without proper treatment or preventative care, diseases like measles, malaria and many other infectious diseases put the population at risk.

In April 2019, the number of measles cases increased to 857 and refugees were reportedly spreading it to communities from refugee camps. Meanwhile, there were 504 cases as of March 2020. Out of the 18 provinces of Burundi, 63% of those districts face a high risk of infection. Low immunity and vaccination rates are two factors putting communities in compromising positions.

Malaria is an ongoing epidemic in Burundi that has claimed the lives of more than 3,170 people, and it continues to spread. Reports determine that the number of cases is 1.2 million, showing a slight decline in cases in comparison to the 1.7 million in 2019. Malaria is treatable and preventable through vaccination and the proper medication; however, access to these supplies and resources is scarce.

Focusing on the Issue  

The numbers on infection and mortality rates of treatable and preventable diseases in Burundi show a need for redirection. Seeing this need, various organizations have proposed ways to put a spotlight on the lack of funding for healthcare systems and supplies and provide the funding necessary to see progress. Here are a few ways organizations are addressing this:

  • In April of 2020, the World Bank and International Development Association (IDA) put into motion a $5 million grant to prevent and counter the spread of COVID-19 and reinforce the preparedness of the health care system of Burundi as a whole. These funds will assist the country’s healthcare system in receiving necessary testing and treatments for existing diseases and epidemics. In coordination with this, the World Bank will disburse $160 billion over the span of 15 months to “protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses and bolster economic recovery.
  • Dr. Norbert Mugabo, a medical officer from Cibitoke province, set out to vaccinate more than 17,000 children as part of a measles vaccination initiative in April of 2020. Dr. Mugabo hopes to reach children between the ages of 9 months and 15 years in light of the outbreak in November 2019.
  • The International Rescue Committee (IRC) set many goals to aid Burundi in 2020. It determined that its main avenue for providing all-around better healthcare is starting with the basics. For example, the IRC intends to rebuild hand washing stations, boosting hygiene and addressing sanitation issues. These small steps forward have the ability to make a big difference long term.

The healthcare system in Burundi lacks the resources and funding needed to help the overall population thrive. However, with the help of dedicated professionals such as Dr. Mugabo and organizations such as the World Bank and the IRC, change in a positive direction is right around the corner.

Katie Mote-Preuss
Photo: Flickr

Measles in Bulgaria
Though the increased distribution of vaccines has nearly eradicated measles around the world, countries have recently seen returning outbreaks. Bulgaria’s outbreak is one of the worst. However, the nation is working to control the measles outbreak with the help of vaccinations and strict government procedures. Here are the top 7 facts about measles in Bulgaria.

7 Facts About Measles in Bulgaria

  1. Between 2009 and 2011, Bulgaria faced a sizable measles outbreak after not reporting any cases since 2001. This outbreak was the largest in Bulgaria since 1992. All regions in Bulgaria were affected and a total of 24,364 cases were reported during this time.
  2. The Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Bulgarian National Programme for the Elimination of Measles and Congenital Rubella Infection managed the outbreak well. Both teams contacted physicians who reached out to families and educated them on the importance of timely vaccinations. These teams also advised the hospitalization of patients with measles to avoid spreading the disease to the community.
  3. Following the outbreak, the MoH distributed information about measles prevention to the national media. MoH also distributed educational materials on measles to all Bulgarians. These efforts made families in remote areas aware of the vaccinations their children should receive.
  4. Bulgaria’s measles vaccine was introduced in 1969, and the second dose was introduced in 1983. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 94 percent of the Bulgarian population had received the first dose, and more than 89 percent had received the second. Following the 2009 outbreak, health officials distributed the vaccine to those aged 13 months to 20 years who had not yet received the two doses. It also became available to those over the age of 30 who were in need of it.
  5. Children that have parents with low education levels have less access to vaccinations. This was found by a study performed by the European Journal of Public Health. Although Bulgaria has consistent access to measles vaccinations, the education level of parents appears to have an impact on vaccination access. In a survey of 206 Bulgarians from the region of Burgas, the mean number of years of education mothers completed was 5.20, while fathers on average completed 7.02. 40.8 percent of children surveyed had no measles vaccination, 45.1 percent received a single dose and only 12.1 percent received a second dose.
  6. Along with other standard, up-to-date vaccinations, measles vaccines are required by the CDC for all travelers visiting Bulgaria. This measure is to protect not only the traveler but also vulnerable Bulgarians. It also helps ensure that measles does not make its way to other countries.
  7. Bulgarians are required to notify health officials if they have measles. The Regional Inspection for Prevention and Control of Public Health (RIPCPH) and the National Center for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD) are then notified. The sooner individuals report cases, the sooner national health organizations can prevent outbreaks. Health officials also proactively study the demographics of measles patients to figure out where the disease came from and other risk factors.

Though Bulgaria’s recent measles outbreaks are distressing, the country has worked hard to protect as many people as possible. Additional efforts are aimed towards preparedness for the possibility of future outbreaks of measles in Bulgaria. With an increase in vaccines and a focus on the disease by medical professionals, Bulgaria will be able to keep measles under control.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pexels

Countries Affected by the Measles OutbreakIn 2019, countries around the world faced a significant increase in measles outbreaks. Besides cases in the United States, people in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Brazil, the Philippines and Somalia have suffered from a resurgence of this preventable disease. There are many causes of the global measles outbreak including the mistrust of vaccines, inadequate access to health care and the global childhood immunization gap.

Measles is caused by a virus and spread through respiratory transmission. It is highly contagious but mostly preventable through childhood vaccinations. Mild symptoms of measles include high fever and a rash. More severe effects of the disease include pneumonia, diarrhea and even deafness.

4 Countries Affected by the Measles Outbreak

  1. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): In the DRC, measles has killed 5,000 people so far in 2019, which is more than twice as many people as Ebola. More than 90 percent of these deaths are children under the age of 5. Further, the measles outbreak has spread throughout all provinces. Lack of access to health care and a shortage of measles vaccines contribute to these deaths. Additionally, weakened immune systems in malnourished children, deficiencies in vitamin A and diseases such as HIV/AIDS also lead to death. UNICEF and other NGOs have distributed more than 1,300 measles kits containing antibiotics, rehydration salts and other drugs to the most impacted areas. UNICEF has also advocated for a longer-term strategy to address the outbreak.

  2. Brazil: Though Brazil had been deemed free of measles in 2015, as of November 2019 the country has had an estimated 50,000 cases of the disease. The highest concentration of measles cases occurred in Sao Paulo, the state with the highest population. Brazilian officials are concerned that people in an isolated tribe in the Amazon may have contracted the disease. This is of particular concern since these people have a low resistance to measles and other diseases. Health officials in Brazil have implemented a measles vaccination campaign to vaccinate millions of young people between the ages of 20-29 in order to contain the outbreak.

  3. The Philippines: Yet another country that has faced a measles outbreak due to distrust in vaccines is the Philippines. The New York Times reports that measles vaccination rates in the country declined from above 80 percent in 2008 to below 70 percent in 2017. Officials have reported nearly 44,000 measles cases in Manila and the surrounding areas as of November 2019. In response to the measles outbreak, along with outbreaks of polio and dengue, the Philippines Red Cross has sought to expand its efforts. This will require recruiting and training some 2,600 volunteers. In the long-term, the Department of Health aims to increase immunization coverage so that 95 percent of children are vaccinated.

  4. Somalia: According to a November 2019 U.N. article, there have been 3,616 suspected cases of measles in Somalia in 2019. In particular, people in IDP camps (for internally displaced people), areas with high population density and nomadic communities are at greater risk. The illness is particularly deadly for children under 5 in Somalia. Unfortunately, one in seven of these children dies before they turn 5. To combat this outbreak, the Somali government has partnered with UNICEF and the WHO to launch a campaign to vaccinate 1.7 million Somali children.

Several countries have faced measles outbreaks in 2019. Increased immunization coverage during childhood could prevent these outbreaks. As these countries affected by the measles outbreak show, access to vaccines and health care is vitally important. In fact, these ailments are often a matter of life and death. Fortunately, NGOs and governments are working together to prevent future measles outbreaks.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

Child Mortality Globally
People have made significant progress in improving child survival rates globally. According to UNICEF, “one in 26 children died before reaching age five in 2018, compared to one in 11 in 1990.” However, far too many children who live in poor and vulnerable regions continue to die prematurely from preventable illnesses every day. Keep reading to learn the top five causes of child mortality globally.

Top 5 Causes of Child Mortality Globally

  1. Tuberculosis (TB) – Tuberculosis is currently one of the biggest causes of child mortality globally. A bacteria called mycobacterium causes TB. It mostly attacks the lungs but can affect other parts of the body as well. People can transmit the illness through the air when coughing, sneezing or talking. More than 600 children under the age of 15 die every day as a result of TB and around 80 percent of these deaths occur in children under the age of 5. Currently, only 96 percent of those children do not receive adequate treatment and as a result, die from the disease. UNICEF has created an agenda for action on childhood TB to help prevent children from dying on a global scale as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. To accomplish this objective, UNICEF needs funding support and investment from global and national decision-makers, governments and researchers.
  2. MeaslesMeasles is an infectious disease that a virus causes and people can contract it through the air, sneezes or coughs. It causes severe complications that can lead to death and is an extremely contagious disease killing children globally. It can last in the air up to two hours and if it affects one person, there is a 90 percent chance that those around them will contract it too. The measles caused 110,000 deaths among children globally in 2017 and most of these deaths were in children under the age of 5. From 2000 to 2017, people developed many preventative measures to stop measles and one of these measures was a vaccine. The vaccine was a major factor in reducing measles deaths among children. It prevented 21.1 million deaths between 2000 and 2017. To continue to prevent measles from taking more young lives, children should receive the vaccine routinely. In 2017, 85 percent of children around the world obtained the vaccine in one dosage. Two doses are ideal to protect children from contracting the disease. The World Health Organization played a huge role in distributing the vaccine. The WHO’s Assembly backed the Global Vaccine Action Plan by endorsing it in 2012. With this endorsement, WHO hopes to eradicate measles in five regions by 2020.
  3. HIV/AIDS – With a compromised immune system, AIDS can develop after contracting HIV. It can transmit to children from mothers through childbirth as well. HIV/AIDS greatly affects adolescent children, especially young women ages 15 to 19. Worldwide, two out of three adolescent girls of key populations have HIV. They are at the highest risk of contracting the disease and most likely do not have access to treatment. Without investment in HIV treatment and prevention programs, projections determine that 270,000 adolescents will contract HIV and 56,000 will die by 2030. Children are dying globally and reports in 2017 stated that the virus infected 430,000 children and killed 130,000 from complications. UNICEF plans to help stop the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child, close the HIV treatment gap and prevent the rise of HIV in adolescent children. UNICEF will do this by supporting governments and communities that fight to reduce inequities in HIV treatment. The organization also provides governments with technical assistance that strengthens their HIV services which include, treatment, prevention, programs and testing.
  4. Neonatal Deaths – Neonatal death refers to the death of a baby within the first 28 days of its life. It is a global phenomenon because children are at their most vulnerable during this time. Neonatal deaths account for 47 percent of deaths under the age of 5. Most neonatal deaths happen in the first day or week after birth. This averages out to about 1 million dying within the first day and close to a million dying within the first 6 days. Prevention of these deaths is important because there is an increasing rate of deaths under the age of 5. Although people cannot prevent most neonatal deaths, they can prevent some. Prevention methods include improving medical management by managing premature labor that can harm by the fetus and monitoring the heart rate of the fetus. Other preventative methods include neonatal intensive care referrals and monitoring possible respiratory complications during pregnancy.
  5. MeningitisMeningitis is an infection of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Viral infections can cause it, but other causes include bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections. Meningitis symptoms can also spread quite quickly. Fifteen percent of children who have developed meningitis become unconscious once the virus spreads. In newborns, the symptoms can be vomiting, rash, very high temperature or inactivity. Around 25 percent of newborns who have meningitis develop increased fluid around the brain that can last up to one or two days and can cause them to be near death within 24 hours. If left untreated 50 percent of patients suffering from meningitis die within 24 to 48 hours. Even with the right treatment, about 5 to 10 percent of patients still die, resulting in many children dying globally. Prevention of this disease begins with getting routinely vaccinated to lower the chances of contracting it. All young children must receive the vaccination in the hopes of preventing the disease from taking their lives.

There are many diseases that cause child mortality globally every day. The world needs to work together to end the epidemic of preventable diseases that are taking the lives of children everywhere. Investing in treatment for preventable diseases in countries that may not have access to it is the first step.

  Jessica Jones
Photo: Flickr

Cost of Measles
A virus spreads measles; the disease is highly contagious and can cause further serious health problems, including death. Globally, 111,000 deaths occurred from measles in 2017 and most of these deaths were of children under the age of 5. While there is a cost-effective and safe vaccination available, there are gaps in vaccination coverage, especially in developing countries. This allows outbreaks of measles to continue to ravage communities and causes the death toll to rise.

Measles in the Developing World

The global cost of measles is high, but it is highest in the developing world. It is estimated that in the United Kingdom, the medical cost of a single measles case is $307, while the vaccine costs are $1.93. Estimates also determine that currently in the developed world, the cost of a measles outbreak can range between $4,091 and $10,228 per day, depending on the size of the outbreak. Each of these outbreaks can last an average of 17.5 days as well. Economies spending little on health care funding might find the cost of quarantining and ending a measles outbreak daunting and that it would cost more resources and funding than is available.

In 2014, the Federated States of Micronesia saw its first measles outbreak in 20 years. Starting with two confirmed cases of measles, the outbreak grew to over 50,000 people, causing 110 deaths. The cost of this measles outbreak matched the cost of measles outbreaks in the industrialized world; the total costs to treat and contain these 50,000 cases were nearly $4 million costing roughly $10,000 per case. Medical costs accounted for approximately a quarter of the total cost of measles in this example. The other costs came from the loss of productivity for those measles infected as well as their caregivers, and the majority of the cost of this measles epidemic was to contain the outbreak. In total, the country spent around $3.5 million on containment. Containment costs are high for countries struggling to provide health care for their citizens, and the loss of productivity for many families in the developing world can mean the difference between feeding their family and starvation.

Measles’ Recent Appearances

The first quarter of 2019 saw a huge upswing in reported measles cases worldwide versus the same time period a year prior. From January through March of 2019, there were over 112,000 cases, and the vast majority of these cases were from developing countries. For comparison, the same three-month time period in 2018 had only 28,000 reported cases of measles. If the cost of measles containment and medical treatment averaged $10,000 per case, as evidenced by the Federated States of Micronesia, then subject countries have spent at least $1.1 billion in a three-month time span to care for patients worldwide. The effects of the loss of productivity on impoverished families, including starvation, added a deficit of several million more dollars to the cost of measles in 2019.

Combatting Measles

To combat the rise of measles, five leading global health NGOs have formed a partnership to control measles deaths, giving support to immunization drives, and working to lower child mortality rates overall. The partnership includes the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation (U.N. Foundation), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

When asked about the origins of the partnership, Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation, said, “It is increasingly clear that every citizen, every sector and every nation has an interest in working together to promote progress in health, human rights, the economy and the environment. Those who think progress in these areas is elusive need look no further than this very tangible, impressive collaboration.” If ever there was a chance to lower child mortality rates, these five NGOs working in connection with one another would be the closest the world has seen.

Vaccination is the Key

Vaccination rates have drastically improved over the last few decades. Measles outbreaks have dropped 80 percent since the year 2000 thanks to increased vaccinations. One can partly attribute the recent increase in measles cases to a decrease in vaccinations worldwide. The cost of measles outbreaks is far too high to continue battling a disease that people can avoid with a vaccine costing less than $2. The cost of lost productivity can continue the cycle of poverty for developing nations for years to come. Measles vaccinations must increase and become available in all reaches of the world to counter the issues that measles outbreaks pose.

Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Flickr

Measles Outbreak in the PhilippinesIn January 2019, a measles outbreak in the Philippines began, leaving more than 450 dead and over 33,000 cases to date. Fifteen years after the near eradication of measles in the Philippines, the disease has returned with a vengeance in the Southeast Asian nation. The vaccination rate for measles in the Philippines has declined steadily, from more than 80 percent in 2008 to under 70 percent in 2017.

Several factors have led to a steady decline in the vaccination rate over the last decade. The issue of accessibility affects many people in rural areas of the country, putting them at risk of contracting diseases that are easily preventable with vaccination. The Philippines consists of 7,000 islands and does not have a secure health care budget in place, rendering it nearly impossible to ensure that all citizens are vaccinated.

Increasing misinformation concerning the negative side effects of vaccines has led many people to become skeptical about vaccinating themselves and their children. This drop in confidence in vaccinations has been quite significant. A 2018 study found that nearly 100 percent of participants were in favor of vaccines in 2015, believing them to be safe and effective only four years ago.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone who is not regularly vaccinated is at risk of contracting measles. The airborne virus can spread extremely easily and remains in a room for hours after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. The measles outbreak in the Philippines has affected thousands of people, including many young children who were not given the proper vaccination. Children under six months of age are especially in danger of contracting measles, as they are too young to receive the vaccine.

Pregnant women or those planning pregnancy run additional risks if they are not vaccinated against measles. If a woman wants to become pregnant — and is vaccinated beforehand — she should wait at least four weeks before attempting to conceive. This ensures that the vaccine is functioning properly and effectively. If a woman is not vaccinated against measles and becomes pregnant, a variety of side effects can occur. Common reactions include premature birth, miscarriages or stillbirths, and babies born underweight.

What Can be Done?

Fortunately, the growth rate of the measles outbreak seems to be slowing. New cases decreased to a few hundred per week in May, while thousands were infected each week in February and March. The decline in new cases largely due to local health officials visiting communities firsthand and checking residents’ vaccination statuses.

For children under six months of age who are unable to receive the necessary MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, the best precaution is to limit contact with anyone who is not a primary caregiver. Infants aged six to 11 months should have one dose of the vaccine, while children over one year and adults should have two doses of the vaccine given at least 28 days apart.

A Bright Side to the Measles Outbreak in the Philippines

Despite the tragic number of families that have been affected by the measles outbreak in the Philippines, there is a bright side. Since the outbreak began in early 2019, more than five million people have been vaccinated against the disease. The Filipino government hopes to boost that number to 20 million by the fall, which would mean one-fifth of the country’s population would be newly vaccinated this year. By immunizing such a significant percentage of the population, the Philippines can restore faith in the healthcare system, and prevent further illness and death.

– Emi Cormier
Photo: NPR

Madagascar Measles Outbreak

Between September 2018 and April 2019, Madagascar‘s measles outbreak has killed over 1,200 people. According to the World Health Organization, measles is a highly contagious viral disease that remains a significant cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of vaccines.  Organizations are currently coming together to aid Madagascar against the outbreak and educate the public about the importance of vaccinations in protecting children from harm.

Recent Outbreak

Madagascar is facing the largest measles outbreak in its history, and only 58 percent of people on the island have been vaccinated against the disease. Dr. Dossou Vincent Sodjinou, a WHO epidemiologist in Madagascar, expressed concern about the expansion of the outbreak and the lack of vaccination.

“The epidemic unfortunately continues to expand in size, though at a slower pace than a month ago,” said Dr. Sodjinou. “Some cases of resistance to vaccinations exist because of the influence of religion or of traditional health practitioners but they are isolated ones.”

Measles is one of the leading causes of death for children, and WHO reports that 450 die each day worldwide due to the illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of measles generally appear seven to 14 days after a person is infected. Measles begins with a fever, a cough, runny nose, a sore throat and red eyes. After a few days of symptoms, tiny white spots, medically known as Koplik’s spots, begin to appear inside the mouth.

The outbreak is complicated by the fact that nearly 50 percent of children in Madagascar are malnourished, which increases the likelihood of severe cases. Those whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases are also at risk.

Weak Healthcare and Shortage of Vaccines

According to United Nations Children’s Fund, once a child is infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.

“The Madagascar measles outbreak is a particularly precarious situation because many of the districts have weak health infrastructure and systems to begin with, which is now exacerbated with a shortage of vaccines,” said Michael L. Rich, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor and the chief clinical advisor at PIVOT, an organization partnering with the Madagascar Ministry of Health. “Without a reliable supply of vaccines, strong supply chains or facilities adequately staffed with trained personnel, an end to Madagascar’s ongoing measles crisis is difficult to foresee.”

Doing More to contain the outbreak

The United Nations Children’s Fund is issuing an urgent appeal to governments, health care providers, and parents to do more to contain Madagascar’s measles outbreak. Efforts against the outbreak include educating the public about the safety of vaccines, vaccinating all children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, training and equipping health workers, and strengthening immunization programs.

PIVOT, an organization dedicated to providing healthcare to impoverished communities, aims to help Madagascar become a symbol of healthcare transformation. In the wake of the outbreak, PIVOT is aiding public systems and pushing for an era of medicine guided by the needs of the poor.

While organizations successfully fight measles in Madagascar, there is also hope around the world. Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, the elimination of measles is a target in five WHO regions by 2020. WHO, as the lead agency responsible for achieving this goal, is giving children around the world hope for a healthier future.

– Carolina Chaves
Photo: Flickr