And it's not just isolated cases. In 2018, 72 people died in Europe, and over 59,000 have become ill with measles – more than double the number from the previous year. Meanwhile, nearly 17,000 people have captured the virus in South America and 76 people have died in Venezuela alone, where a regional outbreak began.
In the United States, Europe and Latin America, we see more and more headlines proclaiming that a child has suffered from measles – a disease that can be easily prevented by vaccination.
As the disease rises to its highest levels for more than a decade, it is crucial that we all come to stop the world from suffocating – and that means ensuring everyone is vaccinated. Unless we act – and quickly – more people get the virus and die. And many of the victims will be children.
Along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, we have supported the vaccination of over 2 billion children, resulting in more than an estimated 21 million lives saved. Since 2001, the start of the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M & RI), a global partnership consisting of the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, we have dedicated our efforts to not eliminate only measles, but also rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
But now, after years of winning fierce fighting, the current outbreaks threaten our progress. Measles can again be common in places that are previously measles, as fewer children are being vaccinated.
This is the cause of outbreaks in Europe and America – vaccination coverage has declined, meaning that not enough people are being vaccinated. At least 95% of a population must receive two doses of the measles-containing vaccine to prevent the virus from spreading and in many areas of outbreak it does not.
Lack of vaccination has far-reaching consequences – from financial hardship in the form of lost wages while caring for a sick child, a child who develops a lifelong disability or dies. Some suffer from complications such as blindness, encephalitis (brain swelling caused by infection), severe diarrhea, dehydration, ear infections and pneumonia.
We have tools, knowledge and know-how to stop this avoidable disease. To build on this success and continue moving toward the elimination of measles, we must close the immunity gaps around the world by reaching each child with life-saving vaccines and detecting and responding quickly to stop any measles infection from spreading.
Over the past four years alone, the global Red Cross and Red Crescent networks say it has mobilized thousands of volunteers around the world who have visited millions of households in the poorest and most marginalized communities to underline the importance of vaccination. Such capabilities within each country help to ensure strong Community safety nets that can be mobilized to protect the world from other health risks.
The recently published report, Progress towards Regional Measles Elimination – Worldwide, 2000-2017, in the World Health Organization Weekly Epidemiological Record shows that over 109,000 vaccine preventable deaths still occurred last year. We encourage health ministers to commit to strengthening their immunization activities and intensifying surveillance to quickly detect cases and prevent this unnecessary suffering. We encourage parents to vaccinate their children.
With your support, the United Nations Fund and the American Red Cross, along with other M&R partners, commit to continuing to provide vaccines, healthcare training, technical assistance and dissemination and community education.
We can – and we must – protect our children from measles and regain the progress we have made towards this disease.