Europe witnesses a record high in measles cases, reports WHO

Over 41,000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first 6 months of 2018. The total number for this period far exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade

Europe witnesses a record high in measles cases, reports WHO

So far, the highest annual total for measles cases between 2010 and 2017 was 23,927 for 2017, and the lowest was 5,273 for 2016. Monthly country reports also indicate that at least 37 people have died due to measles, so far this year.

“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

“We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunisation, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments.”

Seven countries in the region have seen over 1,000 infections in children and adults this year (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine). Ukraine has been the hardest hit, with over 23,000 people affected; this accounts for over half of the regional total. Measles-related deaths have been reported in all of these countries, with Serbia reporting the highest number of 14.

Uneven progress towards measles and rubella elimination

According to the latest assessment by the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC), released today, 43 of the Region’s 53 Member States have interrupted the endemic spread of measles and 42 have interrupted rubella (based on 2017 reporting).

At the same time, the RVC expressed concerns about inadequate disease surveillance and low immunisation coverage in some countries. It also concluded that chains of measles transmission continued for more than 12 months in some countries that had interrupted the endemic spread of the disease, reverting their status back to endemic.

“This partial setback demonstrates that every person who is not immune remains vulnerable no matter where they live, and every country must keep pushing to increase coverage and close immunity gaps, even after achieving interrupted or eliminated status,” says Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.