As nations around the world work quickly to stop the spread of the novel Coronavirus, many countries are experiencing an increase in measles cases as efforts to combat the virus unintentionally disrupt mass measles immunization campaigns.
The American Red Cross along with the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization formed the Measles & Rubella Initiative (MR&I) to help eliminate the highly preventable diseases.
The initiative warns that over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccines this year. As of June 2020, 28 countries have delayed measles vaccination campaigns and another 13 are considering postponement. Of those that have delayed, 18 are experiencing ongoing measles outbreaks.
MR&I urge countries to follow new guidelines from the World Health Organization to protect immunization services, while maintaining the safety of healthcare workers and communities.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases ever known and is a leading cause of death for children under five years old. Similarly, rubella – known as the “German measles” – can increase the risk of birth defects and have serious consequences in pregnant women and children. Although both diseases can be prevented with a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine, poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information pose significant challenges for families to provide preventative vaccinations for their children.
MR&I was formed to rid the world of measles and rubella forever. Since 2001, the initiative has vaccinated more than 2.9 billion children in 88 countries and helped prevent an estimated 21.1 million deaths. As a result of public health measures, global measles mortality rate has decreased by 80 percent since 2000, and global measles vaccine coverage has increased from 72 percent to 85 percent.
However, despite significant gains in vaccination rates in recent years, globally over 13 million children below the age of one did not receive any vaccines at all in 2018. MR&I is working around the clock to continue life-saving measures to close this immunization gap worldwide, despite challenges posed by the pandemic.
Though COVID-19 will likely leave a lasting impact on our society, we cannot allow it to upend decades of progress in eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases. With the help of our partners and stakeholders, we can create a world without measles and rubella.
To learn how you can help save the lives of children around the world, go to https://measlesrubellainitiative.org/.
To learn how you can support American Red Cross safety, preparedness and relief efforts visit: https://www.redcross.org/local/texas/gulf-coast.html
Written by Kailey Hultman, American Red Cross contributor