More than 140,000 people died from measles worldwide last year, the WHO and US authorities said on Thursday, the result of global vaccination rates that have stagnated for almost a decade.
Poorer countries were hardest hit, with the vast majority of measles cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
However, wealthier countries have also been battling their own outbreaks, with four European nations losing their “eliminated” status last year.
The announcement came as the Pacific island nation of Samoa was locked down in order to carry out a mass vaccination drive to cope with an epidemic that has killed 62 and, according to UN officials, was fueled by anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories on the Internet.
“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines — which means investing in immunization and quality healthcare as a right for all,” he said.
Most of the deaths occurred among children younger than five. Babies and infants are at greatest risk of infection and of developing complications, including pneumonia and brain swelling that can lead to permanent damage, blindness or hearing loss.
About 142,300 people lost their lives to the disease last year — a quarter of the number of deaths in 2000, but up 15 percent from 2017. There were 9.7 million total cases.
The WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 86 percent of children globally last year received the first dose of measles vaccine, but less than 70 percent received the second recommended dose.
That is far short of the recommended 95 percent vaccination coverage, with two doses of measles vaccine deemed necessary to protect populations from the disease.
The five worst affected countries — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine — accounted for half of all cases worldwide.
However, the US also saw its highest number of cases in 25 years, narrowly avoiding losing its status of having eliminated the disease. The status is lost if an outbreak is sustained for more than a year.
Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK all lost their eliminated status.
The rise comes as a growing anti-vaccine movement gains steam worldwide, driven by fraudulent claims linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to a risk of autism in children.
A study has found that contracting the measles virus decimated the protective antibodies responsible for remembering previous encounters with disease: effectively wiping the host’s immunity memory.
China has possibly committed “genocide” in its treatment of Uighurs and other minority Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China said in a report on Thursday. The bipartisan commission said that new evidence had last year emerged that “crimes against humanity — and possibly genocide — are occurring” in Xinjiang. It also accused China of harassing Uighurs in the US. China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills, which others have called concentration camps. The UN says that
A racing pigeon has survived an extraordinary 13,000km Pacific Ocean crossing from the US to find a new home in Australia. Now authorities consider the bird a quarantine risk and plan to kill it. Kevin Celli-Bird yesterday said he discovered that the exhausted bird that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on Dec. 26 last year had disappeared from a race in the US state of Oregon on Oct. 29. Experts suspect the pigeon that Celli-Bird has named Joe — after US president-elect Joe Biden — hitched a ride on a cargo ship to cross the Pacific. Joe’s feat has attracted the attention
Australian scientists have raised questions over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in establishing herd immunity, calling for a pause on its widespread rollout as the country recorded one new case of the virus yesterday. Opposition to the vaccine casts a cloud over Australia’s immunization plans, with 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab already on hand. “The question is really whether it is able to provide herd immunity. We are playing a long game here. We don’t know how long that will take,” Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology president Stephen Turner said. Turner added
The Polish Supreme Court on Friday quashed a lower court’s green light for the extradition of a businessman to China for alleged fraud, a charge he has denied, saying that he is being targeted for supporting Falun Gong. Polish authorities took Chinese-born Swedish citizen Li Zhihui, now 53, into custody in 2019 on an international warrant issued by China for alleged non-payment in a business deal, Krzysztof Kitajgrodzki, his Polish lawyer, told reporters. Following the Supreme Court ruling, the case would return to a lower appellate court for review. Kitajgrodzki told reporters that it was still not a given that his client