There will likely be a major outbreak of measles in 2021 as an unexpected effect of the global COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have said. According to the study published in the Lancet journal,  the world is likely to experience an increase in the number of  measles cases owing to many missed vaccinations after medical focus shifted to treatment and control measures against the coronavirus.

Lead author Professor Kim Mulholland, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Chair of the World Health Organization’s SAGE Working Group on measles and rubella vaccines, noted that a measles outbreak is inevitable and especially in low- and middle-income countries as the disease's effects are worsened by malnutrition.

"Children who die from measles are often malnourished, but acute measles pushes many surviving children into malnutrition. Malnutrition, along with measles-associated immune suppression, leads to delayed mortality, while co-existing vitamin A deficiency can also lead to measles-associated blindness,” he said.

Measles is a highly contagious illness is caused by a virus that replicates in the nose and throat of an infected child or adult that can result in death or disability. Photo:International Centre for investigative Reporting

The article has identified three pillars for immediate action: Helping countries reach unimmunised children through catch-up immunisation and campaigns, better preparations for expected outbreaks through WHO's Strategic Response Plan and maintaining measles and rubella elimination targets. WHO’s new Measles Rubella Strategic Framework 2021−2030, aligned with the Immunization Agenda 2030 provides a plan for strengthening routine immunisation and surveillance.

In Kenya, the last reported outbreak was in 2018  with 404 cases reported across five counties: Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Nairobi and Kitui.

According the World Health Organization, it is estimated that by the end of October, 2020, delayed vaccination campaigns in 26 countries have led to 94 million children missing scheduled measles vaccine doses.

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Reference: Action needed now to prevent further increases in measles and measles deaths in the coming years.