Madagascar, the island nation off the coast of East Africa, has been hammered by its worst measles outbreak in decades. The secretary general of the ministry of health told CNN that more than 50,000 people have caught the disease since October 2018 and there have been more than 300 deaths — mostly children.
Children have been vaccinated during one of the four planned rounds of a massive campaign orchestrated by the government, UNICEF and the World Health Organization.In Madagascar, the outbreak has hit every region of the country and all major towns and cities.
The measles virus is highly contagious — it spreads through coughing and sneezing and can live in the air where an infected person coughed or sneezed for up to two hours. If someone who is not immune to the virus breathes the air or touches an infected surface, they can become infected. Its symptoms include high fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye, along with a red, blotchy rash all over the body.
Health officials here believe that vaccine coverage was at less than 50% at the start of this outbreak because of a weak, underfunded health system, and a failure of routine immunization delivery.
For herd immunity to work — when enough people are vaccinated that the disease can’t get a toe-hold — coverage needs to be at around 95%.And for many Malagasy, it isn’t through lack of trying.
The first effective measles vaccine was developed in the early 1960s. Before that, there were an estimated 2.6 million deaths a year from the virus, according to the World Health Organization. In 2017, about 110,000 people died from measles, mostly children younger than 5, the WHO said.