Over the past five months, hundreds of children in Madagascar have died after from the measles, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Thursday.
“Madagascar started with a few cases; now, we are almost close to 60,000 and the cases are still increasing,” said Richard Mihigo, coordinator for the WHO's immunization and vaccine development program at its regional office for Africa.
The measles, also called rubeola, is a viral respiratory infection that can be deadly for small children, according to Mayo Clinic. It typically causes a skin rash and a fever and can lead to serious health conditions like blindness and brain swelling.
The disease can also make children more susceptible to other life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia. The vast majority of fatal measles cases occur in developing countries with high rates of poverty and poor health care systems.
With about 75% of its population living below the poverty line, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country also has a poor, underfunded health care infrastructure and a low vaccination rate, both of which contribute to its high number of measles cases. Only 58% of Madagascar’s residents were vaccinated against the measles in 2017.
And 47% of children in Madagascar are malnourished — the highest rate of malnourished children in the entire continent of Africa. Being malnourished also increases a child’s risk of health complications and can make them more vulnerable to dying from a measles infection.
Vaccinations are crucial for preventing the measles and other infectious diseases. When enough individuals are vaccinated against diseases, communities can establish herd immunity. For this to occur, a country would need at least 95% of its population to be vaccinated.
Madagascar’s measles outbreak has prompted an emergency vaccination response that has led to 2.2 million more people being vaccinated out of the country’s population of 26 million, according to officials.
The country is now requesting help from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Madagascar also plans to enforce a nationwide, two-dose vaccination program later this year.