Measles, polio, yellow fever… the resurgence of infectious diseases worries international health agencies

While the noose of Covid-19 seems to be loosening on the world – the mortality rate linked to the pandemic has never been so low since March 2020 – other diseases are resurfacing. Among them, the most contagious of all, measles, is already worrying international authorities, since nearly 17,338 cases were reported worldwide in January and February 2022, compared to 9,665 during the first two months of 2021, an increase of 79% in one year. Africa is particularly affected, with a 400% increase for the first three months of 2022 compared to the same period of 2021, according to the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Yet measles can be almost entirely prevented with a two-dose vaccination, which is more than 97% effective and lasts a lifetime in most people. Over the past twenty years, the WHO estimates that the vaccine has prevented more than 30 million deaths worldwide, rising from nearly 1 million deaths in 2000 to more than 60,000 in 2020.

The reproduction rate of the disease, that is to say the number of people contaminated by an infected person, being very high (between 17 and 20), the vaccination coverage must reach 95% of the population to prevent the circulation of virus. A major challenge in many regions. For a year, the most affected countries have been Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, where only 46% to 68% of the populations had received a dose of vaccine in 2020.

Signals that international bodies consider very worrying. “As well as being a dangerous and life-threatening disease, measles is a warning sign that reveals gaps in immunization coverage across the globe – gaps that will affect vulnerable children”alerted Catherine Russell, director general of Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, very committed to vaccination, in a joint press release with the WHO, released on April 27.

Catch-up campaigns

The Covid-19 pandemic has weakened many health systems by monopolizing professionals and postponing care as well as prevention campaigns deemed non-priority. “We are now seeing the resurgence of deadly diseases such as measles, and the consequences of these disruptions will be felt for several decades with regard to other diseases”, underlined for his part Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. And to insist: “There is an urgent need to get essential immunization services back on track and to launch catch-up campaigns so that everyone can have access to these life-saving vaccines. » To this must be added the lifting of barrier gestures in most countries, which until then participated in blocking, in addition to Covid-19, the transmission of a certain number of diseases.

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