Measles outbreaks are continuing to spread around the globe, with Ukraine among the nations reporting the highest number of new cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
Measles cases over the first six months of 2019 are at the highest level since 2006 -- substantially a result of uneven availability and misleading information regarding vaccinations, the WHO said in a report published on August 13.
WHO said the crisis is putting great strains on “health-care systems, and leading to serious illness, disability, and deaths in many parts of the world.”
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva that almost 365,000 measles cases were reported around the world in the first seven months of the year, up from just under 130,000 during the same period a year ago.
WHO also cautioned that only one in 10 cases are likely reported worldwide.
Measles is a preventable but highly contagious disease that can kill a child or leave it disabled for life.
WHO stressed that it is “almost entirely preventable” with two doses of “a safe and highly effective vaccine.”
But health experts worldwide have expressed concerns about the so-called "anti-vax" movement spreading on social media and elsewhere that has raised fears among some parents that vaccinations can be harmful for children.
“The reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries -- including lack of access to quality health care or vaccination services, conflict and displacement, misinformation about vaccines, or low awareness about the need to vaccinate,” WHO said.
“In a number of countries, measles is spreading among older children, youth, and adults who have missed out on vaccination in the past,” it added.
WHO said Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar have reported the highest number of cases this year. It noted, though, that cases have “dramatically decreased” in Madagascar through an emergency nationwide vaccine campaign.
The Ukrainian Health Ministry reported earlier this month that 56,861 people -- 26,748 adults and 30,113 children -- have been diagnosed with measles in the country so far in 2019, with 18 fatalities registered.
Major outbreaks are ongoing in Kazakhstan, Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, and Thailand, WHO said.
The United States has reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years -- 1,164 so far this year, up from 372 for all of 2018.
In Europe, there have been nearly 90,000 cases reported for the first six months of this year, exceeding the figure for all of 2018 (84,462), which was already the highest level in this decade.