SA moms get the point of the needle as measles soars globally
The number of cases reported in SA since the start of the year is at an all-time low
The number of measles cases worldwide has risen by 300% in the first three months of the year, but just more than a handful of cases were reported in South Africa.
According to the data released by the World Health Organisation last week, eight cases were reported in SA since the start of 2018.
During the same period last year, 52 cases were reported in the country.
The consistent drop in the number of cases could largely be attributed to most SA communities being firm believers in vaccinations and the high coverage of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.
However, globally the number of measles cases have continued to soar.
Preliminary global data show that the reported cases rose by 300% in the first three months, compared to the same period in 2018.
While the official numbers may differ when it becomes available in July, 2019 has seen 170 countries report 112,163 measles cases to the United Nations health agency.
“As of this time last year, there were 28,124 measles cases from 163 countries. Globally this is almost a 300% increase. The WHO African region has recorded a 700% increase, the region of the Americas 60%, the European region 300%, the Eastern Mediterranean 100%, with 40% increases in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific,” WHO said in a statement.
The spike in case numbers has occurred in countries with high overall vaccination coverage, including the United States, due to a rise in vaccine hesitancy.
WHO lists vaccine hesitancy as a threat to global health.
“Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases,” the organisation said.
Vaccine hesitancy largely drove measles outbreaks in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal in 2017.
More than 200 cases of measles were reported during the outbreaks.
The SA Vaccination and Immunisation Centre told Times Select that refusal to vaccinate in 2017 was based on religious grounds, as porcine products were being used in the manufacture of the measles vaccine.
“That situation may have been saved by the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa, which issued a statement during the outbreak endorsing vaccination of Muslim children, based on the overall benefit of vaccination for individual children, and also leading to a healthy, productive society,” said Prof Rose Burnett.
Since then, SA’s anti-vaccine sentiment has been low, leaving experts to believe some children have not been vaccinated simply because their parents forget to go back for later vaccines.
“Our research has found that for the later vaccines, forgetting is often the reason given for missed vaccinations. Also, being too busy is another reason for missing the later vaccines, since mothers often finish maternity leave when the baby is around three or four months old, and find it difficult to take leave for the six, nine and 18-month vaccinations,” Burnett said.
The School of Pharmacy at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University has run vaccination catch-up campaigns on Saturdays in townships around Tshwane for the past two years.
“We have found that there is a great demand for vaccination services to be offered over weekends and after hours. This, together with SMS reminders for moms, would go a long way towards increasing coverage of these later vaccines,” Burnett said.
Meanwhile, governments around the world are clamping down on anti-vaxxers, whose opposition stems from a discredited study that claimed to have found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Italy has banned unvaccinated children from attending school, while the mayor of New York last week ordered that all residents be vaccinated to contain a measles outbreak in Brooklyn.
“Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases, with the potential to be extremely severe. In 2017, the most recent year for which estimates are available, it caused close to 110,000 deaths.
“Even in high-income countries, complications result in hospitalisation in up to a quarter of cases, and can lead to lifelong disability, from brain damage and blindness to hearing loss,” WHO said.