Ukraine: Red Cross deployed to help contain largest measles outbreak in Europe in four years

Budapest, 5 March 2019 – Ukrainian Red Cross Society volunteers are being deployed to help contain a measles outbreak that has affected more than 75,000 people, making it the largest outbreak in Europe since 2015.  This includes 54,000 measles cases reported in 2018, and more than 21,000 cases registered thus far in 2019.

Poor immunization coverage has contributed to the measles outbreak in Ukraine. In 2018, the measles vaccination rate for newborn babies was only 54 per cent, which is amongst the lowest in the world. This is well below the target of 95 per cent recommended by the World Health Organization. A rate of 95 per cent would protect even those members of the community who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Professor Mykola Polishchuk, Acting President of Ukrainian Red Cross Society, said: “Ukraine has one of the lowest vaccination rates against measles in the world and this is a very worrying trend. We are deploying 100 Red Cross volunteers to raise awareness about vaccination and conduct education campaigns to stop the spread of this disease.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 109,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help the Ukrainian Red Cross Society tackle the outbreak.

Officials say the low coverage rate and widespread transmission of the virus is due to many factors, including transport costs for those in rural areas, a high number of people with weakened immune systems, such people living with HIV and tuberculosis - and vaccine refusal.

The funds will allow Ukrainian Red Cross Society to assist 90,000 people, including the most at-risk – children under six years of age, people with weakened immune systems, and people who have never been vaccinated against the disease.

The emergency funds will also allow volunteers to help health authorities raise awareness about vaccination, to conduct education campaigns in kindergartens, schools, hospitals and aged care facilities, and to provide protective equipment for Red Cross volunteers.

IFRC Europe Regional Director, Simon Missiri, said vaccine refusal is an increasingly worrying trend worldwide.

“It is hard to believe that children are dying of measles in Europe in 2019,” he said. “This disease is almost completely preventable. Red Cross workers have an important role in helping communities understand the importance of vaccines, and in answering concerns that are increasingly prevalent in many countries.”

The measles operation will run for four months in five regions across the country.

Recent global declines in vaccination rates resulted in more than 110,000 measles deaths worldwide in 2017. The Ukraine outbreak coincides with other measles outbreaks across Europe and in the Philippines where measles cases are up more than 547 per cent in 2018 compared to 2017.

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