A nurse prepares a measles vaccine shot. Picture: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP
A nurse prepares a measles vaccine shot. Picture: JOHANNES EISELE/AFP

Geneva — Measles cases nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared with the same period in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday, amid growing concern over public resistance to the vaccine.

So far in 2019, 364,808 measles cases were reported around the world, compared with 129,239 cases during the first seven months a year earlier.

These numbers are “the highest [registered] since 2006”, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said.

The numbers are especially worrying since only about one in 10 actual measles cases are believed to be reported worldwide, according to WHO.

Measles, which is highly contagious, can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the WHO has in recent months sounded the alarm over slipping vaccination rates.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Madagascar and Ukraine registered the highest number of cases, the WHO said.

In Madagascar, which registered about 127,500 cases during the first half of this year alone, numbers have meanwhile dropped considerably in recent months following an emergency national vaccination campaign, the UN health agency stressed.

Measles cases have soared worldwide, with the African region seeing a 900% jump in cases year on year, while cases rose 230% in the western Pacific.

Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan and Thailand have all seen major outbreaks of the disease.

The US has meanwhile registered 1,164 cases so far in 2019, compared with 372 for all of 2018 and the highest number on record in 25 years.

And in the European region, nearly 90,000 cases have been registered in 2019 — well above the 84,462 cases registered in 2018.

Measles — an airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases — had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced health-care systems.

But the so-called anti-vax movement — driven by fraudulent claims linking the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, and a risk of autism in children — has gained traction.

The WHO pointed out that the reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries, with a lack of access to quality health care or vaccination services hindering some from getting the injections, while others are led astray by “misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate”.

The measles vaccine is a “safe and highly effective vaccine”, the WHO stressed in a statement, urging “everyone to ensure their measles vaccinations are up to date”.