UNICEF and WHO fear current conditions are particularly favorable for a measles outbreak, a situation that puts children at risk

As the number of reported measles cases worldwide increased by 79% in the first two months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, WHO and UNICEF warn that current conditions favor serious outbreaks of preventable diseases with the vaccine

The worrying increase in measles cases in January and February 2022 indicates an increased risk of the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and could lead to serious outbreaks, particularly measles. Millions of children could therefore be affected in 2022, warn the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Disruptions related to the pandemic, increasing inequalities in access to vaccines and the reallocation of resources from routine immunization are preventing too many children from receiving protection against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The risk of major outbreaks has increased as communities loosened implementation of the physical distancing rules and other COVID-19 prevention measures imposed at the height of the pandemic. Furthermore, the displacement of millions of people triggered by violent conflicts and crises in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan, among other countries, is leading to the disruption of routine immunization services and COVID.-19, the lack of access to ‘drinking water and sanitation and the increased risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in a context of promiscuity.

Around 17,338 measles cases were recorded worldwide between January and February 2022, up from 9,665 in the first two months of 2021. However, this highly contagious disease tends to reappear rapidly as vaccination rates decline. Organizations worry that measles outbreaks may also portend other outbreaks of slower-spreading diseases.

In addition to its direct effects on the body, which can be life-threatening, the measles virus weakens the immune system and makes the baby more vulnerable for several months to other infectious diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea. . Most measles cases occur in settings that have experienced social and economic hardship from COVID-19, conflict or other crises, and chronically affected by fragile and insecure health infrastructures.

“In addition to being a dangerous and life-threatening disease, measles is a warning sign that reveals gaps in vaccination coverage around the world that vulnerable children will suffer,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of the UNICEF. “While it is encouraging to see that people in many communities are starting to feel sufficiently protected from COVID-19 to resume social interactions, this resumption of activity in countries where children do not receive routine vaccination helps create the perfect breeding ground. for the spread of diseases such as measles. “

In 2020, 23 million children (3.7 million more than in 2019) did not receive basic childhood vaccines as part of routine health services, the highest figure since 2009.

List of the five countries with the highest number of measles cases in the past 12 months, up to April 2022[1]
Village Cases of measles identified Rate per million inhabitants Coverage rate for first dose of measles vaccine (%), 2019[2] Coverage rate for first dose of measles vaccine (%), 2020[3]
Somalia 9.068 554 46 46
Yemen 3.629 119 67 68
Afghanistan 3.628 91 64 66
Nigeria 12,341 58 54 54
Ethiopia 3,039 26 60 58

As of April 2022, organizations had documented 21 major measles outbreaks around the world in the past 12 months with disruptive effects, with Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean being the most affected regions. However, these figures are likely underestimated because the pandemic has undermined surveillance systems around the world, it is very likely that not all cases can be reported.

Among the countries with the highest measles incidence since last year are Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Insufficient measles vaccination coverage is the leading cause of these outbreaks, regardless of the country affected.

“The overload of health systems following the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the disruption of immunization services. However, we are seeing the resurgence of deadly diseases such as measles and the consequences of these disruptions will be felt for several decades compared to other diseases, ”added Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “There is an urgent need to get essential immunization services back on track and to launch recovery campaigns so that everyone can have access to these life-saving vaccines. “

A 1uh April 2022, we still deplore the postponement, due to the pandemic, of 57 planned campaigns against vaccine-preventable diseases in 43 countries, to the detriment of 203 million people, mainly children. Of these campaigns, 19 specifically target measles, a situation that puts 73 million children at risk of contracting the disease. In Ukraine, the measles recovery campaign that began in 2019 was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war. It is essential to carry out routine vaccination and recovery campaigns wherever access is possible in order to ensure that the situation observed in the country between 2017 and 2019, a period characterized by repeated outbreaks affecting more than 115,000 people and causing 41 deaths – the highest incidence rate in Europe – do not recur.

Achieving vaccination coverage of at least 95% of the population with two doses of the vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect children from measles. However, in many countries, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed the administration of the second dose of the vaccine.

As countries take action to tackle measles outbreaks and other vaccine-preventable diseases and work to catch up, UNICEF, WHO and partners, such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Measles & Rubella Initiative, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, continue their immunization systems by strengthening efforts:

  • Restoration of immunization services and campaigns so that countries can safely conduct routine immunization programs and catch up;
  • Helping healthcare professionals and community leaders to actively communicate with healthcare professionals to explain the importance of vaccinations;
  • Fill gaps in vaccination coverage, including by identifying communities and individuals who have not received a dose during the pandemic;
  • Ensure that vaccination against COVID-19 is funded separately and well integrated into the overall planning of immunization services, so that it is not carried out at the expense of other vaccinations, especially those against childhood diseases;
  • Implementation of national plans for the prevention and control of vaccine-preventable epidemics and strengthening of immunization systems as part of COVID-19 recovery measures.


UNICEF: photos and b-rolls available here for download. WHO: photos available for download

Resources to learn more about the WHO campaign for World Immunization Week April 24-30.


UNICEF works in some of the most inhospitable places in the world to reach the most disadvantaged children. In more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, every day, to build a better world for all. To find out more about UNICEF and its work, visit: www.unicef.org/fr.

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The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO has 194 member states in six regions. Its mission is to promote health, preserve global security and serve vulnerable populations. Its goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that one billion more people benefit from universal health coverage, that one billion more people are better protected against health emergencies, and that one billion more people enjoy health and safety. better well-being.

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[1] Source: Provisional data based on monthly reports submitted to WHO through April 2022

[2] Source: WHO / UNICEF national vaccination coverage estimates, 2020 revision.

[3] Source: WHO / UNICEF national vaccination coverage estimates, 2020 revision.

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