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Measles Cases on the Rise Globally among Unvaccinated Millions

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By Allison Kozicharow; Edited by Elizabeth Fine

MYTH: Measles (rubeola) is an unpleasant but harmless childhood disease. You get a rash for a few days and you’re done.

FACT: Measles is an extremely contagious respiratory disease whose complications include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and related dehydration, ear infections and pneumonia. Fatality rates range from 0.1% in industrial countries to 15% in developing countries, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Measles cases are not only increasing worldwide but in areas where experts thought the disease had been eradicated, such as the United States.

Why the comeback? The main reason is lack of vaccination. A recent Lancet article explains that the disruption of global health systems due to the COVID pandemic drastically reduced routine immunizations for preventable diseases — especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Populations most at risk for measles complications and death are young children and pregnant women. The World Health Organization states that measles poses “a relentlessly increasing threat to children” as millions remain unvaccinated, mainly in low-resource regions.

The truth is that any unvaccinated person can contract measles. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares that someone can catch measles just by being in a room an infected person walked through!

Another reason for the uptick in measles cases — and indeed in any infectious disease — is because of the ease of traveling from one end of the world to the other and, more importantly, from migration as a result of conflict and famine.

WiRED International continues to tout vaccination as key to preventing many infectious diseases, as evidenced in our health education trainings (see sidebar). In the meantime we will monitor and report on the global presence of measles.

WiRED always emphasizes the importance of vaccination throughout our training programs. We discuss immunization in many of our health education modules, for example:

WiRED also includes vaccination as an integral part of routine healthy practices in our Mother and Child Health Series.

In addition WiRED offers a vaccination training course for its community health workers (CHWs). Developed during the pandemic, this course teaches CHWs who have completed the core curriculum how to set up a shot clinic and administer vaccinations, all under the supervision of a medical professional.

A Parent’s Personal Message after the Death of a Daughter from Measles
Roald Dahl, credit Wikipedia

Author Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was famous for such classics as James and the Giant Peach. After his daughter Olivia died in 1962 at age 7 from encephalitis, a complication of measles, he wrote an open letter to parents urging them to vaccinate their children against the disease.

An excerpt from Roald Dahl — on the death of his daughter:

[T]here is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk.

To read the letter in its entirety, click here.