Last year, 82,596 new cases of measles were reported in Europe, three times more than in 2017 and 15 times higher than the record of 2016. In 2018, the number of people with the disease in Europe was the highest in a decade. According to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO), this disease can be fatal, resulting in the deaths of 72 children and adults last year.
Ninety-two percent of cases come from only 10 countries. Ukraine, Serbia, Israel, France, Italy, Russia, Georgia, Greece, Albania and Romania figure in the order of most cases. Only six of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region did not register any new cases. Sixty-one percent of those infected had to be hospitalized. WHO urges European countries to do more to fight measles.
It's not just bad news. In 2017, the vaccination rate increased significantly, reaching the highest coverage rate ever estimated for the second 90% vaccination dose. And more children received the full set of two doses on time in 2017 than any year since 2000, the year that WHO started collecting this data. But WHO warns not to be too pleased: although national averages are rising, the number of cases indicates serious gaps at the more local level. And that could lead to even more serious epidemics.
"The situation for 2018 clearly shows that the current rate of increase in vaccination rates will be insufficient to stop the circulation of measles. Although the data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at the regional level, they also reflect a record number of people affected and dead by the disease. This means that gaps at the local level still offer an open door to the virus, "said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, in a statement. "We can not reach healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO's vision for the next five years if we do not work locally. We must do more and do better to protect everyone from diseases that can be easily prevented. "
Ukraine has suffered the most from measles in 2017 due to the huge drop in immunization coverage during the invasion of Crimea by Russia and the ensuing conflict. Vaccination rates fell to 31% in 2016. In other countries, it is the antivax movements, especially those supported by populist governments as in Italy.
WHO suggests that European countries ensure that everyone has equal and rapid access to life-saving vaccines. Governments must determine who has already been forgotten and ensure that these groups are covered by new efforts. Campaigns should be organized to increase public confidence in vaccines and health authorities.