The UN News Service reported that the World Health Organization’s European Region has recorded measles cases in 17 countries since the start of the year, including Uzbekistan which is included in the region.

As of late February, 900 cases had been officially reported — more than during all of 2022. The WHO stresses that the authorities of all countries, including those with confirmed endemic transmission of measles, should remain vigilant against the highly contagious disease.

Over the past 12 months, the highest number of measles cases has been reported in Tajikistan (610), Turkey (466) and Russia (414). In Austria, Serbia, the UK and Uzbekistan, the incidence has increased since the beginning of 2023.

As of April 11, 34 cases of suspected measles had been reported in Uzbekistan, 26 of which had been confirmed, according to statistics posted on the WHO website. By comparison, only eight cases were reported last year.

In 2017, the WHO officially recognised Uzbekistan as a country free of measles and rubella. However, as early as 2018, measles cases were again detected in the country. In 2019, the Ministry of Health stated that these cases were imported.

Measles incidence data for neighbouring countries and Russia

CountryJanuary 1 — April 11, 20232022
Uzbekistan34 (suspected) / 26 (confirmed)
Tajikistan215 / 199451
Kyrgyzstan60 / 7
Kazakhstan0 / 74
Turkmenistan8 / 00
Afghanistan1371 / 7515111
Russia1254 / 325114

“Once an outbreak is confirmed, WHO recommends a series of actions for rapid response, including investigating the circumstances of the infection, identifying and vaccinating those who have been in contact with and susceptible to the disease, infection control in health facilities and working with affected communities or populations to raise awareness,” said José Agan of WHO.

Last year, countries in the region carried out supplementary vaccination campaigns which, among other things, identified children who missed routine measles vaccinations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Measures to combat measles

Tajikistan has taken comprehensive measures over the past year to stop the measles outbreak, including the identification of areas with high infection rates and the vaccination of children aged 6 months to 15 years living in these areas.

“In the target areas, Tajikistan authorities have succeeded in vaccinating 99% of children who were unvaccinated or had not received all doses of vaccination,” said Jose Agan.

He noted that while the number of measles cases in these target areas has decreased significantly thanks to WHO and UNICEF support, more efforts are needed to close the immunisation gap and prevent further transmission both within and outside the country.

The Serbian authorities, having identified a measles outbreak, began their response in 2023. Surveillance measures were strengthened and additional vaccination was carried out in the early stages. Serbia also launched an information campaign and initiated laboratory genotyping to identify possible sources and chains of transmission.

Measles vaccination and the pandemic

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a record 40 million children worldwide did not receive routine measles vaccinations in 2021. 25 million children missed the first dose and another 14.7 million missed the second dose.

In the European Region, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vaccination rates varied between and within countries. Some countries were able to catch up between the COVID-19 waves and maintain desired immunization rates. In others, routine immunization has been interrupted or delayed for a considerable period.

WHO is working with partners in Europe and beyond to support countries during and after European Immunization Week (23−29 April) and help them protect more people from vaccine-preventable diseases.