Every region in the world, except the Americas, is experiencing an increase in the number of cases of measles, a vaccine-preventable disease that can kill or disable children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
“We are backsliding, we are on the wrong track,” Kate O’Brien, director of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, told a news briefing. “We have a worrying trend that all regions are experiencing an increase in measles except for the region of the Americas, which has seen a small decline.”
O’Brien put the blame on weak health systems and misinformation about vaccines, and called on social media outlets and communities to make sure information about preventing the highly contagious disease was accurate.
The biggest outbreaks are raging in the Democratic Republic of Congo (155,460 cases), Madagascar (127,454) and Ukraine (54,246), it said.
Europe has also lost ground, with four countries stripped of their “measles-free” status in 2018 — Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and Britain, it said.
Nearly three times more cases were reported from January to July this year than in the same period in 2018, the WHO said.
Nearly 365,000 cases have been reported globally this year, the highest figure since 2006, it said, noting that they represent only a fraction of the 6.7 million suspected cases. Measles caused an estimated 109,000 deaths in 2017, its most recent figures show.
The WHO figures did not include a specific breakdown of numbers for the Americas region.
The United States has recorded 1,215 measles cases across 30 states in its worst outbreak since 1992, federal health officials said on Monday.
Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease.