Measles spike prompts WHO warning on stalled vaccinations

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A Syrian boy gets his measles jab in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Photo: UNICEF/Jordan-2013/ Alaa Malhas

Measles deaths saw a near 20 per cent spike last year and the virus has the potential to rebound, World Health Organization medics said on Thursday.

More than 145,000 people died from the disease in 2013, up from 122,000 the previous year, according to latest WHO statistics.

WHO also said that efforts to eliminate the vaccine-treatable illness have stalled for a variety of reasons, including conflict and reduced funding.

Speaking in Geneva, WHO's Dr Robert Perry said that a big area of concern was Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where fighting and major population displacement made it difficult to vaccinate people efficiently.

"In Syria there's been a lot of effort to reach kids …usually people have tried to negotiate days of tranquillity, negotiated truce among all the warring parties to allow vaccination to occur, that worked well during the Salvador conflict in the 1990s and it worked in DR Congo, but it seems like it's a new level of intensity now that doesn't allow for these kinds of things to occur."

The agency attributed last year's measles increase to outbreaks in China, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.

But the vast majority of deaths from measles occur in developing countries including India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia, WHO said.

The agency warned that failure to reverse this alarming trend could jeopardize a decade of achievements in fighting the highly contagious disease.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations.

Duration: 1.40"

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