UNICEF and WHO call for emergency action to avert major measles and polio epidemics

10 November 2020

Article: 54/4504

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued an urgent call to action to avert major measles and polio epidemics as COVID-19 continues to disrupt immunization services worldwide, leaving millions of vulnerable children at heightened risk of preventable childhood diseases.

In recent years, there has been a global resurgence of measles with ongoing outbreaks in all parts of the world, with vaccination coverage gaps further exacerbated in 2020 by COVID-19. In 2019, measles climbed to the highest number of new infections in more than two decades. Annual measles mortality data for 2019 to be released next week will show the continued negative toll that sustained outbreaks are having in many countries around the world.

At the same time, poliovirus transmission is expected to increase in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in many under-immunised areas of Africa. Failure to eradicate polio now may lead to global resurgence of the disease, with estimates suggesting there may be as many as 200,000 new cases annually, within 10 years. 

New tools, including a next-generation novel oral polio vaccine and the forthcoming Measles Outbreak Strategic Response Plan are expected to be deployed over the coming months to help tackle these growing threats in a more effective and sustainable manner, and, it is hoped, ultimately save lives. The plan is a worldwide strategy to quickly and effectively prevent, detect and respond to measles outbreaks.

Source: WHO, 6 November 2020