In 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
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.
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.
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.
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