Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are partially to blame for a 30% rise in the number of measles cases reported across the globe, according to the World Health organisation (WHO).
Around 173,000 measles cases were officially reported in 2017, but it’s believed the true number of cases stood at 6.7 million in the same year.
An estimated 110,000 people died from the highly-infectious condition last year, most of whom were children.
Health experts emphasise that the disease is preventable with the help of a vaccine, but many parents are concerned about side effects as a result of widespread misinformation.
Martin Friede, acting director of WHO’s immunisation, vaccines and biologicals division said: “What is more worrying than this increase… is that we are seeing sustained measles transmission in countries that had not previously seen measles transmission for many years.
“This suggests that we are actually regressing in certain cases.”
The disease can cause hearing loss and mental disorders in children and in the most severe of cases, it can cause death.
It can also lead to further health problems such as diphtheria, particularly in populations that are under-vaccinated.
Mr Friede added: “We are seeing an uptick looking at the 2018 data and this uptick appears to be sustained so we are worried that what may begin as a spike is becoming a trend.”
Global vaccine coverage for the first dose of measles vaccine has stalled at 85%, but health professionals warn that a 95% vaccine rate is required to prevent outbreaks.
WHO’s Ann Lindstrand emphasises that in most cases, the fall in vaccinations is a result of poverty. She explains: “The majority of the children who miss out live in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities around the world, many in conflict areas.”
But, she adds, “negative misinformation or mistrust in immunisation” also discourages vaccination, even though it has been proven to be safe.