Why measles deaths are surging — and coronavirus could make it worse

Source: Nature

A viral outbreak has killed more than 6,500 children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and is still spreading through the country. The foe isn’t the feared coronavirus, which has only just reached the DRC. It’s an old, familiar and underestimated adversary: measles.

measles surge.jpg, Apr 2020

Cases began to spike here in October 2018. Children became weak, feverish and congested, with red eyes and painful sores in their mouths, all with the telltale rash of measles. “We have been running after the virus ever since,” says Balcha Masresha, an epidemiologist with the World Health Organization (WHO) regional Africa office in Brazzaville in the neighbouring Republic of Congo. The situation has mushroomed into what WHO experts say might be the largest documented measles outbreak in one country since the world gained a measles vaccine in 1963 (see ‘Measles cases on the rise’).

The highly contagious measles virus continues to spread around the globe. In 2018, cases surged to an estimated 10 million worldwide, with 140,000 deaths, a 58% increase since 2016. In rich countries, scattered measles outbreaks are fuelled by people refusing to vaccinate their children. But in poor countries, the problems are health systems so broken and underfunded that it is nigh-on impossible to deliver the vaccine to people who need it. The DRC’s flood of cases shows why measles will keep flaring up despite efforts to control it. And the situation will only worsen with the COVID-19 pandemic: more than 20 countries have already suspended measles vaccination campaigns as healthcare workers scramble to deal with coronavirus.



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