The measles are back. The UK, which typically has a few dozen cases of measles each year, has already had more than 1,200 cases in 2013, following a record 2,000 cases in 2012, reports the Associated Press. The surge comes more than 10 years after a now-discredited study which claimed that vaccines cause autism, leading parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.
"This is the legacy of the Wakefield scare," Royal College of Paediatrics and child health spokesman David Elliman told the AP, referring to the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield. The UK is now second only to Romania in number of measles cases in Europe. And now, health officials are doing all they can to immunize 10 to 16 year olds and stop a possible epidemic.
Wakefield's work, which connected the development of autism to the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine was eventually retracted by The Lancet, where it was originally published, after many large scientific studies were unable to replicate his findings.
Although it was determined his conclusions were false, parents' fears for their children were then compounded when celebrities like Jenny McCarthy jumped on the anti-vaccination bandwagon. MMR vaccination rates in the UK dropped from about 90 percent to about 54 percent, AP says.
Most of the people who are currently falling ill are older children and teens who haven't been vaccinated. The National Health Service is starting a nationwide push to get people vaccinated this week, reports Scotland's STV News, particularly targeting kids from 10 to 17.
But Britain's measles problem may have wider repercussions. So far this year in the U.S., three of the 22 reported measles cases have already been traced back to Britain. And if Europe fails in its committment to eliminate the disease by 2015 — a possibility that is now looking likely — it will impact negatively on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and Africa's ability to achieve them, says Africa Young Voices (AYV).
"In the event of any outbreak, Africa will feel the pain more than Europe," AYV says. The thought of an outbreak must be a wake-up call to African leaders to start taking their own measures to control local health problems, instead of relying on help from Europe, the site adds, calling the measles problem "a heart throbbing moment for Africa and Sierra Leone in particular, when we take into perspective our dependence on Western nations for technical and donor support for our medical needs."
African nations should learn from Europe's mistakes, AYV says, and take up the banner of public health by helping the public to make good health decisions and by keeping the people informed. "Africa must now look inwards to address her needs, more especially the challenge of communicable diseases, which we will best control through information dissemination and education," the site adds.