UNICEF warned Thursday cases of measles are growing to "alarmingly high levels" worldwide, including in countries previously considered to be measles-free.
The UN agency said in a press release nearly 100 countries reported an uptick in measles cases in 2018 compared to the year prior. Ten of those countries account for nearly 75 percent of the total increase, with Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil topping the list. Ukraine had more than 35,000 cases of measles in 2018, and a little more than 24,000 infections in the first two months of 2019. For perspective, there were only 4,782 reported cases in Ukraine in 2017, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
The U.S. also saw a spike in the highly preventable disease, with nearly six times the number of reported cases in 2018 compared to 2017. Washington state in particular saw a significant increase, prompting the state to declare a state of emergency over an outbreak earlier this year.
UNICEF points to "poor health infrastructure, civil strife, low community awareness, complacency and vaccine hesitancy" as the cause for recent measles outbreaks. There is no specific treatment for measles, which is why the agency stresses the importance of vaccinating children. UNICEF says the vaccine "has saved almost a million lives every year over the last two decades."