Madagascar is facing, as described by CNN, “its worst measles outbreak in decades”, with over 50,000 infected and over 300 dead since October 2018.
The Philippines’s Department of Health recently declared a measles outbreak in its Capital, Metro Manila, and areas of Luzon and Visayas. 1,500 cases and 26 deaths were reported since 26 January 2019, with 441 cases in Manila alone.
The US is also dealing with its own measles scare in Clark County, Washington. As of last Saturday (9 Feb), there were 53 confirmed cases and two suspected.
Most of the victims in all 3 countries were children.
Measles is a highly contagious airborne virus which can cause high fever, flu-like symptoms, pink-eye and severe body-wide rashes. While healthy adults can usually fight off the infection, infected children or people with compromised immune systems can easily die from complications. Fortunately, there is a highly effective vaccine for measles. In spite of that, measles has been making waves through countries all over the world. Why then are there still so many unvaccinated?
Madagascar is a victim of a poor healthcare system. Over 50% of Malagasy were unvaccinated, largely due to the lack of supply of vaccines and routine vaccinations. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has since begun supporting Madagascar’s Ministry of Public Health, increasing surveillance and vaccination efforts.
The Philippines’ outbreak is believed to be a result of the Dengvaxia scare in 2017. An anti-dengue vaccine was pulled from shelves due to claims from the Public Attorney’s Office that the vaccine had directly led to the deaths of 14 children. Despite an expert panel confirming that the vaccines were not the cause of death, the public lost trust in vaccines, causing low vaccination rates.
The US’ outbreak arose from the anti-vaxxer movement. The site of the outbreak, Clark County, is a known anti-vaccination hot spot. Its proponents latch on to conspiracy theories, chief among which are that vaccines are harmful and/or cause autism in children. It is this movement that spurred about 700 people to protest against stricter vaccination laws last Friday (8 Feb), during the measles outbreak where 47 of the 53 cases were children who had not been vaccinated (5 were “unverified”).
Looking at these recent outbreaks, it is easy to see why “weak primary healthcare” and “vaccine hesitancy” are among WHO’s top 10 threats to global health in 2019.