Although measles is entirely preventable with immunisation, it still claims almost 150,000 lives every year
Before 2001, more than 750,000 children died every year from measles, a highly contagious virus whose symptoms include high fever and a severe skin rash.
According to the WHO, global measles deaths fell by 75% between 2000 and 2013. However even with this impressive decline, an estimated 145,000 deaths occurred in 2013, mainly affecting children under the age of five. The majority of measles deaths (95%) occur in low-income countries with weak health systems.
In populations with large numbers of displaced people, malnourishment and poor access to health services, up to 10% of measles cases result in death. By weakening the immune system, measles can also lead to other health problems such as pneumonia, blindness, diarrhoea and encephalitis.
Recent experience shows that failure to vaccinate enough children and maintain high levels of herd immunity (93%–95%) can result in measles outbreaks. According to WHO, progress is stalled in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, where weak health systems, conflict and population displacement have hampered vaccination efforts.
Meanwhile, the European region has seen measles re-emerge with outbreaks in a number of countries including Georgia, Turkey and Ukraine.1 According to the Centres for Disease Control, the United States experienced an increase in measles cases in 2014–2015.2
PREVENTABLE WITH IMMUNISATION
Measles is entirely preventable with immunisation, using a safe, effective and relatively inexpensive vaccine that has existed for more than half a century.
According to WHO, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths in the 2000–2013 period, making the vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
Each child should be reached with two doses of the measles vaccine. The second dose can be given through routine immunisation programmes or through supplementary immunisation activities (catch-up campaigns).
There is a resurgence of measles in Africa, reinforcing the importance of stronger routine immunisation services and timely measles campaigns.