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Measles Epidemic Is Surging Globally at Alarming Rate

A Venezuelan girl cries while receiving a measles vaccine at an immigration processing office on the Rumichaca bridge, after crossing the border from Colombia to Ecuador, June 13, 2019.

So far this year, 364,808 cases of measles have been reported globally, the highest number since 2006

The World Health Organization warns of serious consequences if nations do not take immediate action to stop the escalation of measles infections, which have reached alarming new heights.

Nearly 365,000 cases of measles have been reported globally so far this year, the highest number since 2006. The World Health Organization says that is almost three times as many cases than at the same time last year. And, with four more months left in 2019, it warns more bad news is in store.

The WHO said measles is increasing in all regions of the world, with the exception of the Americas. WHO Director of the Department of Immunization Vaccines and Biologicals Kate O'Brien said the world is backsliding and is not on track to eliminate the dangerous, but largely preventable disease by 2020.

"We are absolutely backsliding on the measles situation and that is extremely worrying for, certainly the health of children,” O’Brien said. “Absolutely the health as well of adolescents and adults as I mentioned … And, it also signals that there is a complacency in some way about our immunization systems."

A European regional report finds four countries, Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and Britain have lost their measles elimination status. However, Austria and Switzerland attained elimination status, having interrupted transmission of the disease for at least 36 months.

O'Brien said children are not getting vaccinated against the disease for a variety of reasons. She told VOA it sometimes is physically difficult for parents to go to a clinic to have their child vaccinated. She said vaccine hesitancy and complacency, as well as misinformation about the safety of vaccines play a role.

"We do see in high income countries to some degree there are small, well-defined communities that have religious or ethnic or social beliefs where a community as a whole is declining vaccines,” O’Brien said.

On the other hand, O'Brien notes in countries of conflict and other fragile settings, getting and delivering life-saving vaccines to the populations is often very difficult.

She said she is very concerned about the politicization of vaccines. She said vaccines have no role in political conflict and should never be used in this way.