Reported cases rose by nearly 300 per cent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period last year, the WHO said. So far, it has reports of 112,163 measles cases this year, though the organization notes that these numbers are not yet finalized as some countries are still reporting data.
In the first three months of 2018, there were only 28,124 cases.
Madagascar is the hardest-hit country, reporting more than 69,000 cases in its ongoing outbreak, although the WHO said in a press release that a vaccination campaign there is beginning to have an effect. More than 1,200 people have died there so far.
Africa has seen a 700 per cent increase in cases in the first three months of 2019 compared to 2018.
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Measles cases have increased worldwide over the last two years, the WHO said. “Many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases. Current outbreaks include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, causing many deaths — mostly among young children.”
But it’s not just countries where vaccines are hard to come by that get the disease, the WHO said. “Over recent months, spikes in case numbers have also occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States of America as well as Israel, Thailand, and Tunisia, as the disease has spread fast among clusters of unvaccinated people.”
The organization said that the actual number of cases is likely to be much higher than their numbers show, as many people don’t seek medical attention.
While the disease is “almost entirely” preventable through two doses of a vaccine, global vaccine coverage for the first dose has stalled at 85 per cent, the WHO noted — well short of the 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks. Second dose coverage is far lower.
Measles killed close to 110,000 people in 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, according to the WHO.