New Delhi: Although measles can be prevented through vaccination, nearly 6.4 million newborns are still not being immunized annually and the progress to eradicate the disease has stalled globally in the past one year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in a report on Thursday.

Ten deaths and 15,768 cases of measles were reported in 2013, India’s national health profile shows.

The new data, published in the WHO Weekly Epidemiological Report and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Thursday, reveals an overall increase in the number of deaths from measles globally—an estimated 1,22,000 deaths in 2012 to 1,45,700 in 2013, threatening the impressive gains made so far in controlling measles.

“Poor progress in increasing measles vaccination coverage has resulted in large outbreaks of this highly contagious disease, throwing the 2015 elimination targets off-track," Peter Strebel, in charge of accelerated disease control at the WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said in the report. “Countries urgently need to prioritize maintaining and improving immunization coverage. Failure to reverse this alarming trend could jeopardize the momentum generated by a decade of achievements in reducing measles mortality."

Measles is a highly contagious disease mainly afflicting children. The infection spreads through respiration—contact with fluids from an infected person’s nose and mouth directly or via aerosol transmission through coughing or sneezing.

Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading.

There is no treatment for measles and most people recover within 2–3 weeks. But in malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia.

The estimated number of deaths due to measles in 2013 represents a 75% decline in mortality since 2000, significantly below the WHO’s target of a 95% reduction in deaths between 2000 and 2015.

WHO has been warning for a number of years that the disease has the potential to rebound if vaccination and surveillance efforts are not maintained and strengthened.

Impressive gains have been made towards measles elimination in recent years and an estimated 15.6 million deaths were prevented through vaccination during 2000-2013.

The huge reductions in mortality, however, are tapering off.

“The net effect of reduced global funding by governments and partners has caused postponed and suboptimal immunization campaigns, resulting in large outbreaks that threaten our hard-earned gains," Robert Kezaala, Unicef’s senior health advisor for immunization, said in a statement.

Close