8 countries facing measles outbreaks more serious than Canada’s
Vancouver’s measles outbreak — like most Canadian measles outbreaks — was started by a traveller bringing the virus from overseas.
With just 17 confirmed cases as of Friday, this outbreak is relatively small. Other countries aren’t so lucky.
According to the World Health Organization, around 110,000 people worldwide died from the vaccine-preventable disease in 2017. The WHO also named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends making sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before travel. Here are some of the places currently facing measles outbreaks around the world, though many more countries are reporting cases, too.
One of the most serious outbreaks right now is in Madagascar, where almost 1,000 people have died from measles since October. Most of them were children.
Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries. Parents there are desperate to vaccinate their children, many trudging for miles to get to clinics for shots. But there are not enough vaccines, the health ministry says, and many people are too poor to afford them.
Measles is endemic on the island, but the last vaccination drive was in 2004. Nearly two-thirds of children have not been vaccinated, according to the WHO, and coverage needs to be around 95 per cent to prevent the virus from spreading in communities. The vaccine also needs to be kept cold, and much of the island does not have electricity.
One case of measles in Vancouver involved a traveller returning from the Philippines. According to a report this week from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, measles cases in 2018 were up 547 per cent from the year before.
Just this year, 261 people, mostly children, have died. That’s more than in all of 2018, the report notes.
According to an article in the Journal of Global Health, many people in the Philippines don’t trust vaccines after a vaccine scandal in 2014 involving the dengue fever vaccine Dengvaxia. Some people with no history of dengue were at higher risk of developing a more severe form of the disease if they caught it after being vaccinated.
Although that vaccine is no longer sold in the Philippines, many parents there are now reluctant to vaccinate their children against other diseases.
In 2018, there were 30,338 more measles cases in Ukraine than in 2017, according to a recent report by UNICEF.
In the first two months of 2019, another 24,042 people were infected, said the report. Thirty people have died from the disease since 2017.
UNICEF blames low vaccination rates in the country due to negative attitudes toward vaccination in some regions as well as previous shortages in vaccine supply.
Some other eastern European countries, notably Serbia and Romania, have also seen big increases in the number of measles cases in recent years. In Romania, 59 people have died from measles since 2016, according to UNICEF.
WATCH (From Aug. 2018): More than 41,000 measles cases were reported in Europe during the first half of 2018
Venezuela and Brazil
Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis has affected the health of its population, including weakening immunization programs, according to an upcoming report in the April 2019 edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The latest reports from the Venezuela Ministry of Health estimate that only about half of the population has received two doses of the measles vaccine. According to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), there were 283 measles cases reported in January and February 2019, with 40 confirmed cases.
In 2018, 74 Venezuelans died from measles. The resurgence of infectious diseases in Venezuela is a public health threat to the region, according to the Emerging Infectious Diseases report.
Brazil also frequently sees measles outbreaks — 10,000 cases over roughly the last year have resulted in 12 deaths, according to the PAHO. Many, though not all, cases come from Venezuelans.
Italy and France
Italy currently has more measles cases than anywhere else in western Europe — 165 cases in January, according to a recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Italy’s current co-ruling Five Star Movement has questioned the safety of some vaccines and rejected calls to make them mandatory.
France had 124 measles cases in January. It also had the most cases in the European Union in 2018 at 2,913. Thirty-five people died from measles in EU/EEA countries in 2018.
Japan recorded about 170 measles cases in the first two months of 2019, according to media reports. This is the highest over that period in 10 years.
A report in the New York Times said that many of the cases were among people connected to Kyusei Shinkyo, a group that promotes alternative healing. The group has since posted a statement on its website apologizing for the outbreak.
—With files from Reuters
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