Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say that major disruptions in the health care systems in West Africa caused by the Ebola crisis have led to significant decreases in vaccinations for childhood diseases, increasing susceptibility to measles and other vaccine-preventable illnesses.
Should a large measles outbreak occur in the region, nearly twice as many people could be sickened by the disease and thousands more could die, the researchers report in the March 13 issue of Science. For every month of interruption in the health care system, they say, an additional 20,000 children between the ages of nine months and five years become susceptible to the measles.
“The secondary effects of Ebola – both in childhood infections and other health outcomes – are potentially as devastating in terms of loss of life as the disease itself,” says study leader Dr. Justin Lessler, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “While the downstream effects of Ebola are many, we can actually do something about measles relatively cheaply and easily, saving many lives by restarting derailed vaccination campaigns.”
The current Ebola outbreak began in December 2013 in Guinea and since then there have been more than 14,200 confirmed cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with more than 9,500 deaths blamed on the disease in those nations. Many health-care facilities in the region have been closed; many citizens have stayed away from those that are open for fear of contracting the deadly disease. As a result, many have not received routine medical care.