Even as reported measles cases globally during 2000 to 2018 decreased by 59%, there has been a spike since 2016. Compared with over 1,32,000 reported cases in 2016, the numbers shot up to over 3,53,000 in 2018. While the numbers in 2018 were more than double the previous year, the numbers in 2019 have already surpassed those of 2018. By mid-November 2019, over 4,00,000 cases were reported globally.

Global picture

Last year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia, and Ukraine accounted for 45% of all reported cases. The situation worsened in Congo by November, with a nearly four-fold increase in cases (from 65,000 in 2018 to 2,50,000 in 2019) and over 5,100 deaths. The situation in Ukraine is grim.

Reason for rise in cases

  1. Vaccine hesitancy has been highlighted for the staggering spread in cases globally. In DR Congo, there is low institutional trust, misinformation, vaccine shortage and even attacks on health-care centres and workers leading to the spread of both measles and Ebola.

  2. The Philippines and the small Pacific island of Samoa serve as a textbook case of the sudden emergence of vaccine hesitancy. Mass immunisation using a newly approved dengue vaccine in Philippines, before the risks associated with the vaccine were reported by the manufacturer, shattered public trust in vaccines; so low vaccine coverage led to measles and polio outbreaks.

  3. In Samoa, an error in preparing the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) injection led to the death of two infants. Fear-mongering led to a fall in vaccine uptake, leading to an outbreak of measles.

  4. In many European countries and the U.S., vaccine hesitancy has been on religious grounds and primarily due to anti-vaccination campaigns spreading fake news about vaccine safety.

Laws making vaccination mandatory

To counter rising hesitancy, about a dozen European countries have already introduced laws making vaccination mandatory. New York City too introduced such a law when the U.S. nearly lost its measles elimination status.

Such laws may prove counterproductive in the long run, and the only way to increase vaccine uptake is by educating the public. With 2.3 million children not vaccinated against measles last year, India has much to do to protect its young citizens.

Source: The Hindu

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology