As many as 98 countries, both wealthy and underdeveloped, have reported an unprecedented spike in measles, the UN children’s body has warned, blaming the rapid spread of the disease on anti-vax prejudice.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, sounded the alarm about the spread of highly contagious diseases around the world on Friday, revealing that 98 countries reported a spike in measles cases last year. However, only 10 countries are responsible for that dramatic increase.
The top by a large margin is Ukraine, where a whopping 35,120 cases were registered. The Philippines was second with an increase of more than 13,000 (from a little over 2,000 in the whole of 2017). Brazil, with a surge of 10,262 cases, trails far behind in third.
War-stricken Yemen, crisis-hit Venezuela, as well as Serbia, Madagascar, Sudan, Thailand and France have all made the top 10 list.
While there are several explanations for the sudden outbreak of the infectious diseases, like civil conflict, poor healthcare and general complacency, Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, argued that one of the most serious challenges is misinformation. This was an apparent nod to the anti-vaccine movement, which is gaining momentum in the developing as well as developed world.
Measles may be the disease, but all too often the real infection is misinformation, mistrust and complacency.
In Ukraine, for instance, misinformation appears to be the cause, with UNICEF reporting that the hardest-hit area was the western Lviv region. It has not been affected by the country’s civil unrest, but “negative attitudes toward immunization, and previous shortages in vaccine supply, have resulted in low vaccination rates.”
Fore pointed out that there is a far greater risk of catching measles than Ebola, tuberculosis or influenza, as it is highly contagious. Likewise, it can be very hard to combat the disease, as there is no specific treatment apart from pre-emptive vaccination.
The vaccine against measles was introduced five decades ago, having been invented in 1963.
Fore said that there was “simply no excuse” for the measles outbreaks in places where the vaccine is easily affordable.
“Almost all of these cases are preventable, and yet children are getting infected even in places where there is simply no excuse,” she said.
These cases haven’t happened overnight. Just as the serious outbreaks we are seeing today took hold in 2018, lack of action today will have disastrous consequences for children tomorrow.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in January that the anti-vax movement or “vaccine hesitancy” is among the top threats to global health – on a par with Ebola and HIV.
However, peddlers of the anti-Russian narrative have made Moscow a scapegoat instead of looking closer to home. A recent report by the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty alleged that Russia had “eroded public consensus on vaccination” in the US.
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