(CNN) – A child was included in Brooklyn in the largest measles outbreak in the state of New York in decades. A 17-year-old died outside of Paris, France. At least 12 children suffered the same fate in Brazil.
And these are not just isolated cases. In 2018, 72 people died in Europe and more than 59,000 became ill with measles – more than double the previous year. Meanwhile, nearly 17,000 people have caught the virus in South America and 76 people have only died in Venezuela, where a regional outbreak began.
In the United States, Europe and Latin America, we are seeing more and more headlines that announce that a child is suffering from measles – a disease that is easily preventable through vaccination.
As the disease rises to the highest level in more than a decade, it is imperative that we all come together to prevent the world from deteriorating further – and that means that everyone is being vaccinated. Unless we act – and soon – more people will get the virus and die. And many of the victims will be children.
Together with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, we have supported the vaccination of more than 2 billion children, resulting in more than an estimated 21 million lives saved. Since 2001, the start of the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M & RI), a global partnership consisting of the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF, we have our efforts to not only eliminate measles, but rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
But now, after years of winning hard-fought battles, the current outbreaks threaten our progress. Measles can once again become commonplace in places where there were no measles before, because fewer children are vaccinated.
This is the reason that outbreaks occur in Europe and America – the vaccination coverage has dropped, which means that not enough people are being vaccinated. At least 95% of a population should receive two doses of the measles-containing vaccine to prevent the virus from spreading, and in many areas of outbreaks this does not happen.
Non-vaccination has far-reaching consequences – from financial hardship in the form of lost wages for the care of a sick child, to a child that develops life-long disabilities or dies. Some suffer from complications such as blindness, encephalitis (brain swelling caused by infection), severe diarrhea, dehydration, ear infections and pneumonia.
We have the tools, knowledge and know-how to stop this avoidable disease. In order to build on this success and continue the elimination of measles, we need to close up immunity gaps all over the world by reaching every child with life-saving vaccines and quickly detecting and responding to prevent any measles infection from spreading.
In the past four years alone, the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Network has said it has mobilized thousands of volunteers around the world who have visited millions of households in the poorest and most marginalized communities to emphasize the importance of vaccination. Such capabilities within each country help to create strong safety nets for the community that can be mobilized to protect the world from other health threats.
The recently published report, Progress to Regional Measles Elimination – Worldwide, 2000-2017, in the World Health Organization's Weekly Epidemiological Record, shows that more than 109,000 vaccine deaths occurred last year. We call on health ministers to work to strengthen their immunization activities and to step up surveillance to quickly detect cases and prevent unnecessary suffering. We call on parents to vaccinate their children.
With your support, the United Nations Foundation and the American Red Cross, together with other M & RI partners, promise to continue providing vaccines, training for health professionals, technical assistance and community coverage and education.
We can – and we must – protect our children from measles and regain the progress we have made against this disease.