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Measles makes a comeback: Fake news to blame?

Measles is a preventable disease – so why have cases almost quadrupled in a year?

The first three months of 2019 witnessed dramatic increases in rates of the disease in every region of the world, compared to the same period last year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 170 countries reported 112,163 cases of measles to the WHO in this period, versus 28,124 cases last year.

India has reported 7,246 confirmed cases of measles this year, with a total of 7,976 suspected cases, as well as 130 cases of rubella. This is as of April 9th.

India means India ranks as one of the worst-affected countries alongside Brazil, Madagascar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Ukraine and Yemen. Behind Madgascar and Ukraine, India accounts for the third highest number of confirmed measles cases so far this year. Last year, India reported 68,841 confirmed cases of measles according to the WHO data. 

The measles resurgence at the global level highlights the implications of anti-vaccination movements worldwide. The so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement is thought of as a western phenomenon, but the WHO’s data challenges this. As previously reported by Health Issues India, India is a global giant when it comes to producing vaccines, but resurgences of vaccine-preventable infectious conditions suggest the pharmaceutical industry may be losing trust among patients.

Copyright: keeratipreechanugoon / 123RF Stock Photo
Vaccines are a vital component of the global struggle against infectious disease, including measles and rubella.

Misinformation is regularly spread about vaccines. Health Issues India has noted before how fake news is making Indians sicker, with social media platforms such as WhatsApp serving as a channel for false medical advice and health myths to spread at an alarming pace. This is the case not only with the measles and rubella vaccine, but also other vital protections such as the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can prevent numerous forms of cancer – most notably cervical cancer, which is a leading cause of death among Indian women.

India has much to gain from vaccination campaigns, as numerous examples show. One study found that a government-run campaign to vaccinate against measles prevented the deaths of 41,000 to 56,000 children between 2010 and 2013. A vaccination campaign against polio succeeded in eradicating a disease once thought of as an unbeatable public health adversary.

Yet it’s clear that much more needs to be done to strengthen access to vaccinations, especially in vulnerable or hesitant communities, which can act as a breeding ground for contagious diseases like measles to spread and amplify their presence.

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