The directors of the World Health Organization (WHO) and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are personally convinced — we’re facing a global measles crisis.

Measles outbreak.

Image credits Twitter Trends 2019 / Flickr.

Whether or not their respective agencies will issue an official warning is still under discussion. However, Henrietta Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of WHO, issued a shared statement declaring their personal opinion that the world is beset by a measles crisis. The duo cite data showing a 300% overall increase in cases of this disease globally.

Less measles, please

“We are in the middle of a global measles crisis,” they together declared in a recent opinion piece for CNN.

By the time you finish reading this, we estimate that at least 40 people — most of them children — will be infected by this fast-moving, life-threatening disease.”

Measles is one of the most virulent diseases humanity has ever encountered. Before an effective vaccine was developed to guard us against the threat, it is estimated that virtually all children contracted this potentially-fatal disease by the time they turned 15.

So, you’ll be thrilled to know that measles is coming back in force around the world. In some areas, like Africa for example, measles cases have increased by a staggering 700% compared to 2018. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, Philippines, Sudan, Thailand, and Ukraine are currently in the throes of measles epidemics, they add.

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Measles Trends.

Image via the CDC.

This data would certainly support the two’s opinion, especially when you factor in that the WHO estimates under 10% of all measles cases globally are reported. Even countries with high vaccination rates, like the US, Thailand, and Israel are seeing a surge in measles cases, likely due to localized gaps in vaccination coverage that impair herd immunity. With measles outbreaks in New York, Washington, California, and New Jersey, the United States has already counted more cases of this disease than all the 12 months of 2018 combined.

Fear of vaccines is at least part of the problem. Earlier this year, the WHO listed fear of vaccines as one of the most dire threats to public health in 2019. In areas like New York, whose recent measles outbreak has more to do with people refusing vaccines rather than a lack of access to them, vaccine fear is a leading cause of the disease’s spread.

“We welcome initial steps taken by digital companies such as Facebook, Amazon and YouTube to quarantine these vaccine myths,” Fore and Ghebreyesus write, “but it will take much more — not only from these online platforms but from governments, individuals and the health community — to make sure all children get their vaccines at the right time.”

It is estimated that measles vaccinations have saved some 20 million lives since the year 2000. The directors want to see vaccination efforts continue to bear fruit, but warn that unless we take a collective stand for science, health, and for vaccines, we will see many deaths caused by this disease in the near future.

An unofficial warning call has been issued. The only question now is: will we let it turn into an official, full-blown crisis?

Preliminary measles data for 2019 was published online by the World Health Organisation here.