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WHO calls 4-fold increase in European measles cases a ‘tragedy’, but vows to fight on

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Experts blame lack of take-up for the MMR vaccine as a reason for the rise

Cases of measles in Europe rose by 400% last year. The World Health Organisation (WHO), which presented the statistics, described the rise as a ‘tragedy’.

The data comes after a record low of 5,273 cases in the previous year. That figure has now skyrocketed to a staggering 21,315 cases – a more than 4-fold increase.

Experts have suggested that people foregoing vaccinations, partly due to unfounded fears of medical complications, has contributed to the problem.

Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, called it ‘a tragedy we cannot accept’.

Measles, which is usually protected against by receiving an MMR vaccine, is an extremely infection illness that can, in some cases, be deadly – 35 people died from the illness in Europe last year.

The UK celebrated last September when it was announced that the illness had been officially eliminated in the country (meaning that in the last few years rates were so low it did not allow its circulation).

This progress now seems to have been undermined.

According to Public Health England (PHE), the growth in cases in the UK (282 last year) was a result of the rise in Europe.

Around 15 Europe states suffered serious outbreaks of the illness last year, with countries such as Romania, Italy and Ukraine all experiencing the highest levels of about 5,000 cases each.

‘Every new person affected by measles in Europe reminds us that unvaccinated children and adults, regardless of where they live, remain at risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others who may not be able to get vaccinated,’ said Dr Jakab.

Globally, more than 90% of measles outbreaks occur in poorer countries, with the fatality rate being around 20%. For the current European outbreak, it is 0.2%.

In 2016, global deaths from measles dropped below the 100,000 a year mark for the first time. And WHO estimate that roughly 20 million lives will have been saved since 2000 because of measles vaccinations – making it ‘one of the best buys in public health’.

For Jakab: ‘Elimination of both measles and rubella is a priority goal that all European countries have firmly committed to, and a cornerstone for achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.’

‘This short-term setback cannot deter us from our commitment to be the generation that frees our children from these diseases once and for all.’

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