Europe loses ground in eliminating measles: WHO

The number of countries in Europe that have achieved or sustained the elimination of measles has declined, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

WHO said this was the conclusion of the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC).

The RVC determined that for the first time since the verification process began in the region in 2012, four countries — Albania, Czech Republic, Greece, and the United Kingdom, lost their measles elimination status.

It was based on an assessment of annual status updates for 2018 submitted by the 53 Member States of the European Region, WHO said at a press conference here.

In the first six months of 2019, over 364,000 cases have been reported to WHO globally.

“That number, which is only for cases up through August, is the highest number of measles cases reported globally in any year since 2006,” said Kate O’Brien, director of the Department for Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals at WHO, at the press conference.

She said there is a “worrying trend” that all regions are experiencing an increase in measles except for the Americas, which has seen a small decline.

Measles is a viral infection that is highly contagious for every person.

“It’s a serious infection. The complications can include brain swelling, can include pneumonia, dehydration, permanent disability. And, of course, in some individuals can cause death,” she said.

O’Brien said that measles outbreaks are a burden for health and well-being, and they also incur enormous financial costs to respond to the outbreaks.

She said that even in a national setting, where coverage is very high, there can be small pockets, communities of people where the vaccination coverage in that particular community is low and insufficient to prevent an outbreak.

“Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning. If high immunization coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily, and some will tragically die,” said RVC chair Gunter Pfaff.