In 2016 there were 89,780 measles deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This became the first year in which measles deaths dropped below 100,000 per year.
The prevalence of measles (rubeola) in South Africa has also decreased in the last decade thanks to concerted efforts to vaccinate all children. Excellent vaccination rates have been achieved in some provinces, notably the Western Cape and Gauteng.
However, others still lag behind, particularly the Eastern Cape and many rural areas.
In some developing countries that don’t have measles vaccination programmes, measles is still common in children under the age of two. With this high and continual prevalence of the measles virus, children are likely to contract the virus early in life. However, with increased vaccination coverage, this pattern of exposure to the measles virus can be substantially reduced.
In developed countries, measles tends to be seen in adolescents or young adults as a consequence of waning immunity following incomplete vaccination. Measles control and virtual elimination can, however, be achieved with sufficient commitment and expenditure in any country.
It’s important to note that measles is a very serious disease. Before the measles vaccine became widely available, 2.6 million deaths resulted from measles infection internationally in 1980 alone. How fortunate it is that this life-saving vaccination is now available. Measles vaccination resulted in an 84% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2016.
Reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician at the University of Cape Town’s Allergy and Immunology Unit. April 2018.