Thursday, January 3, 2013

Measles Deaths on the Rise in Pakistan

Child with measles (
Here is an article from The Washington Post reporting on measles deaths in Pakistan in 2012. 306 children died of measles in Pakistan in 2012, up from 64 in 2011. Pakistan is also one of the only countries in the world where polio is still endemic.

The article cites public distrust of vaccination and damage to health infrastructure from flooding as potential reasons for the increase in measles cases. Sadly, there have been multiple reports in recent weeks of aid workers being killed in Pakistan, a fact that also may compromise child vaccination efforts in this country.

Measles is a highly contagious viral illness that mostly affects children; it causes high fever, cough and rash. Although most people recover from the illness it can cause serious complications, including encephalitis (brain inflammation), blindness, pneumonia, and death. Efforts to prevent developing the illness (such as vaccination) are key as there is no specific treatment for the illness once acquired.

Transmission electron micrograph image of a
single measles virion (
In 2010 139,300 measles deaths were reported. These deaths were mostly in developing countries with poor health infrastructure. We have a safe, cost-effective measles vaccine available and there is an international push to vaccinate all children against this deadly viral illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), progress has been made over the past decade: between 2000 and 2010 there was a 74% drop in global measles deaths, and in 2010 approximately 85% of children globally had received at least one dose of measles vaccine (up from 72% a decade earlier). According to data in the recently released Global Burden of Disease study, in 1990 measles was the number 12 most important cause of global years of life lost; in 2010 it had dropped to number 38.

Measles is not only a problem in the developing world, however. In recent years a dramatic rise in measles cases has been seen in France and England, largely related to inadequate vaccination rates in younger people.

Globally, progress has been made over the past twenty years in combating vaccine-preventable viral illnesses. The current increase in measles deaths in Pakistan is a good reminder, however, that there is still much more to be done.

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