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Around 1.2 million children in India did not receive the first dose of the measles vaccine in 2019, a report by World Health Organization (WHO) and the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The report, Progress Toward Regional Measles Elimination-Worldwide, 2000-2019, said that measles cases globally had reached a 23-year high to 869,770 in 2019, while deaths from the infection increased by nearly 50% since 2016 to claim nearly 207,500 lives across all WHO regions.

Globally, a steady decline from 2010 had resulted in the lowest reported number of measles cases in 2016, but since then, cases have been increasing because children were not being vaccinated on time. India is one of the top six countries accounting for 48% of the global caseload. The others are: Nigeria (3.3 million), Ethiopia (1.5 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1.4 million), Pakistan (1.4 million) and the Philippines (0.7 million).

“We know how to prevent measles outbreaks and deaths. The data sends a clear message that we are failing to protect children from measles in every region of the world. We must work collectively to support countries and engage communities to reach everyone, everywhere with measles vaccine and stop this deadly virus," said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The measles virus spreads via infected people to unvaccinated or under-vaccinated populations. To prevent outbreaks and deaths, vaccination coverage using MCV1 and MCV2 must reach at least 95% of the population, and the ratio must be maintained both at the national and sub-national levels. However, the report said that MCV1 coverage has been stagnant globally for over a decade at 84-85%, and despite a steady increase in MCV2 coverage it was only at 71%, WHO added.

Though reported cases of measles are lower in 2020, efforts to control covid-19 resulted in disruptions in the vaccination drives and efforts to prevent and minimize a measles outbreak. As of November, over 94 million people across 26 countries were at risk of not getting vaccinated, because vaccination campaigns were postponed following the covid-19 outbreak.

Only eight out of the 26 countries that stalled the immunization drive for 2020 have resumed their campaigns.

Last week, WHO and Unicef had jointly issued an urgent call for action to avert a major measles epidemic.

“We are concerned that covid-19 will contribute to an increase in the number of measles cases and deaths," said Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer, American Red Cross.

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