Friday 22nd September 2017,

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With medical systems in shambles in West Africa, a regional measles outbreak could affect 20,000 more people today than Ebola

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A Liberian health care worker vaccinates a young child. Photo taken by Shehzad Noorani/AP

Large outbreaks of measles and other preventable infectious diseases could occur in West Africa due to the collapse of health systems in Ebola-ravaged countries, according to a recent report.

With the region’s medical systems in shambles, deaths from other infectious diseases could equal or surpass those caused by Ebola, says Justin Lessler, coauthor of the paper and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, the U.S. 

Lessler and colleagues base their predictions on mathematical models, said the report published Thursday.

According to a Liberian News Agency news release, while West Africa has recently made progress against Ebola — with no new cases in Liberia for the past two weeks — the battle against the virus has drained resources from other parts of the health system.

The LINA news release which was published on a community Listserv today quoted Lesser as saying that Childhood immunizations programs have ground to a standstill in some places.

Although the health system has rebounded slightly as the number of Ebola cases has ebbed, Lessler and colleagues estimate that vaccination programs have reached at least 25 percent fewer children than usual.

For every month that immunization programs are disrupted, thousands of children are left vulnerable to measles, one of the most contagious of all viruses, according to Lessler. Measles outbreaks often follow natural and humanitarian disasters, he observes.

Measles is already circulating in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola.

Liberia alone has had at least 180 cases of measles, says Mit Philips, health policy analyst at Doctors Without Borders, who recently visited the country.

The LINA release said, a regional measles outbreak could affect 20,000 more people today than before the Ebola outbreak, which began in December 2013, as there are more unvaccinated children; up to 4,000 additional lives could be lost, Lessler says.

Measles, which spreads through the air, is far more contagious than Ebola, which spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids. LINA  also reported that in 2013 alone, measles killed 82,100 people Worldwide.

The health systems of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were weak even before the Ebola outbreak.

Liberia had only 51 physicians for a population of 4.3 million, according to a report, while in 2013 Sierra Leone had the highest infant mortality rate in the world, with more than 1 of every 100 babies dying at birth, the World Bank said.

UNICEF has started a campaign to vaccinate children against measles in Ebola-stricken countries.

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