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Shock Rise in Global Measles Cases ‘A Wake up Call,’ Says United Nations

Global measles cases increased by almost 50% from 2017 to 2018, UNICEF says, with 10 countries accounting for nearly three-quarters of that surge.

Using data from the World Health Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund found these countries had the highest incidences of measles in 2018:

  1. Ukraine: 30,338 cases
  2. Philippines: 13,192
  3. Brazil: 10,262
  4. Yemen: 6,641
  5. Venezuela: 4,916
  6. Serbia: 4,355
  7. Madagascar: 4,307
  8. Sudan: 3,496
  9. Thailand: 2,758
  10. France: 2,269

Worldwide, there were nearly 300,000 cases of measles in 2018, which killed about 136,000 — deaths that could have been prevented with a simple vaccine. In the Ukraine, another 24,042 cases of measles have already been reported in the first two months of 2019, and in the Philippines, 12,736. Alarmingly, Brazil had no reported cases of measles in 2017, but more than 10,000 in 2018.

UNICEF blames poor health infrastructure, low awareness, civil disorder, complacency and a backlash against vaccinations for the increases. “These cases haven’t happened overnight,” Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore said in a statement. “Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow.”

Measles is a virus that attacks the respiratory tract and travels by air, and is a leading cause of death among children. It is also more contagious than Ebola, tuberculosis or influenza, and is especially life-threatening for children who are malnourished and have limited access to medical treatment.

In the U.S. in 2019, measles has already been reported in New York (267 cases), Washington (66 cases), Texas (8 cases), Illinois (5 cases) and Oregon (4 cases). That brings the U.S. close to topping last year’s 372 cases of measles just as we enter March. That’s led to an increased demand for the measles vaccine.

The United States had basically succeeded in eliminating measles in 2000, but an increase in anti-vaccination beliefs has led to a resurgence in recent years. The World Health Organization called vaccine hesitancy one of the 10 biggest threats to global wellbeing in 2019.