Ethiopia Confronting Its Measles Epidemic

Ethiopian children remain at risk for the measles virus

Ethiopian children

The eastern African country of Ethiopia has been reporting measles outbreaks for many years, however, in 2019, new information indicates children are the ones most vulnerable for this infectious disease. 

According to reporting by the European Commission, approximately 54 percent of the 4,000 measles cases in Ethiopia reported during 2019 affected children under 5 years of age. 

Moreover, over 60 percent of the children had never received their 1st measles vaccine dose. 

This new data estimates that by the end of 2019, about 3.5 million children will be susceptible to the measles virus, mainly because of the failure to achieve the ‘herd-immunity’ necessary to interrupt transmission. 

Herd-immunity often benefits children who can not receive a vaccine because of immune system concerns. 

Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing. Measles can become a serious health risk, leading to pneumonia, encephalitis, and death says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Moreover, these Ethiopian children are not the only under-vaccinated population. 

An estimated 169 million children missed out on the 1st dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, or 21.1 million children a year on average, said UNICEF on April 25, 2019. 

And, the measles virus is one of the leading causes of death among children, particularly in developing countries. An estimated 100,000 measles deaths occurred globally in 2017. 

Ethiopia announced it would aggressively confront this under-vaccination issue by integrating the measles vaccine second dose (MCV2) vaccination into the routine immunization program in the second year of life. 

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The Ethiopian Ministry of Health said about 3,348,363 children will receive measles vaccine second doses. 

Dr. Chatora Rufaro, World Health Organization (WHO) Ethiopia representative said in a press release, “The introduction of the 2nd dose of measles vaccination in Ethiopia will significantly contribute to a reduction of measles morbidity and mortality as well as the overall child mortality by preventing measles outbreaks.” 

To notify visitors about Ethiopia’s ongoing measles risks, the CDC issued an initial Level 1 Travel Alert in 2015.  Since then, the CDC advises all visitors to Ethiopia to ensure they are immunized against the measles virus.      

The CDC says acceptable evidence of immunity against measles includes at least one of the following: written documentation of adequate vaccination, laboratory evidence of immunity, laboratory confirmation of measles, or birth in the United States before 1957.

Measles immunity tests are available from commercial labs, such as UltaLabs. 

And, pre-departure measles vaccinations can be scheduled at Vax-Before-Travel.

In the USA, most pharmacies offer measles vaccines, such as MMR-II and ProQuad.

Separately, Canadian and UK health authorities have also issued measles-related travel advisories for Ethiopia.

Recently, on May 13th, 2019, the US Department of State issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for Ethiopia, related to civil unrest and communications disruptions in Ethiopia.