More than 140,000 people were killed by measles last year

More than 140,000 people were killed by measles last year amid the resurgence of the killer infection, alarming statistics show.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the ‘unprecedented crisis’ is set to enter its third year. 

Figures has revealed there were 9,769,400 cases globally in 2018, with the majority being babies and children under the age of five. 

Cases of the killer infection have risen by 2million (29 per cent) since 2017. And the number of deaths is almost 20,000 higher, Unicef said. 

Unicef has revealed there were 9,769,400 cases globally in 2018, with the majority being babies and children under the age of five (pictured, a boy in Samoa – which is currently battling a severe measles outbreak – being vaccinated against measles)

It said poor vaccination coverage had led to devastating outbreaks in many parts of the world.

Worst affected were developing nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Madagascar and Somalia. 

Ukraine was also heavily struck down. Between the five countries, they accounted for almost half of all measles cases worldwide. 

The Pacific nation of Samoa has declared a state of emergency and unvaccinated families are hanging red flags outside their homes to help medical teams find them

Wealthy countries have also been battling measles outbreaks. This year, the US reported its highest number of cases in 25 years, with at least 1,250 cases in 2019. 

And the UK was among four European countries – including Albania, Czechia and Greece – that lost their measles elimination status in 2018. 

This happens if measles re-enters a country after it has been declared eliminated, and if transmission is sustained continuously in the country for more than a year.

While lack of accessible healthcare was blamed for the cases in Africa, complacency and lack of trust in jabs was blamed for the outbreak in Ukraine.


The foundation of most anti-vaccination theories is based in claims made by doctors in England – John Wilson in the 1970s and Andrew Wakefield in 1990s.

Wilson claimed he had evidence that the whooping cough vaccination could cause brain damage in small children, and that he had case studies to prove it.

But detailed scientific studies were carried out by the British Government which completely disproved Wilson’s theory, the documentary explains.

And Wakefield, a more recent anti-vaxx icon who is still active in the US and Europe, claimed in the 90s that the MMR jab could cause autism.

Wakefield’s research was also found to be false – he had made up the results of a study he published in the medical journal The Lancet – and he was struck off the medical register and left the UK soon afterwards.

But the shadows of their work persists, with anti-vaxxers around the world still believing the disproven theories as well as others, such as that ingredients like mercury – although a non-metal form – inside vaccines are harmful.

Although the science claimed to be behind these myths is repeatedly proven wrong, people continue to believe them.

And the argument has taken on an increasingly political angle, with some exercising it as a right to choose what is put into their child.

Anti-vaxxers spreading entirely unproven claims that vaccines are dangerous have repeatedly been blamed for fuelling cases.  

More than 19million children worldwide did not have the first dose of the measles vaccine by their second birthday in 2018.  

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, director-general of the WHO, said: ‘The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children.

‘To save lives, we must ensure everyone can benefit from vaccines – which means investing in immunization and quality health care as a right for all.’

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.  

Babies and very young children are at greatest risk, with potential complications including pneumonia and swelling of the brain.

The disease can cause lifelong disability such as permanent brain damage, blindness or deafness.

Liam Sollis, head of policy and advocacy at Unicef UK, said: ‘This data shows the stark global impact of this devastating and entirely preventable disease.

‘With vaccination rates in the UK falling and recently losing our measles free status, an outbreak is now a ticking time bomb.

‘Too many children are being put at unnecessary risk – with half a million children in the UK unvaccinated against measles. 

‘It’s crucial to build trust with parents and improve access to vaccine services. No child should be denied their right to be protected from vaccine-preventable disease.’  

Recently published evidence shows that contracting the measles virus can have further long-term health impacts, with the virus damaging the immune system’s memory for months or even years following infection.

This ‘immune amnesia’ leaves survivors vulnerable to other potentially deadly diseases, like the flu or severe diarrhoea, by harming the body’s immune defenses.

Measles is preventable through vaccination. However, vaccination rates globally have stagnated for almost a decade.


The Pacific Island has been shut down for two days, with people told to stay indoors amid the measles epidemic.

Emergency workers are going door-to-door to give all unvaccinated residents the MMR jab.

Families have been asked to hang red flags from their homes to signal they have not been vaccinated.

Shops, schools and roads have all been closed, to allow the government to focus on containing the deadly outbreak. Samoa will stay on lockdown until Saturday. 

Only a third of the 200,000 residents on the island had received both their MMR jabs before the outbreak in October.

A total of 62 people have been killed in a matter of weeks since then – 54 of whom are babies and children under four.

Another 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition. It now means more than 4,000 people have contracted the disease.

The UN said the measles crisis has been fuelled by anti-vaxxers and called for social media giants to crack down on them. 

WHO and UNICEF estimate that 86 per cent of children globally received the first dose of measles vaccine through their country’s routine vaccination services in 2018.

Fewer than 70 per cent received the second recommended dose.

Worldwide, coverage with measles vaccine is not adequate to prevent outbreaks.

WHO recommends that 95 per cent vaccination coverage with two doses of the MMR vaccine is needed in each country and all communities to protect populations from the disease.

The number of English children receiving both doses of the MMR is at its lowest in seven years at a time when measles and mumps rates are surging.

Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said: ‘It is a tragedy that the world is seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths from a disease that is easily preventable with a vaccine.

‘While hesitancy and complacency are challenges to overcome, the largest measles outbreaks have hit countries with weak routine immunization and health systems.

‘We must do better at reaching the most vulnerable, and that will be a fundamental focus of Gavi’s next five-year period.’

Over the last 18 years, measles vaccination alone is estimated to have saved more than 23million lives.


Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.

Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.

The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading. 

Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.

In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious. 

‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain. 

‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’

Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.

Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.

Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital