The number of measles cases in Malta has soared to an unprecedented level this year, with 30 cases reported in the first six months, according to the World Health Organisation. 

Data recently published by the health body showed that the figures until June are in stark contrast to those for the previous years. According to the WHO data, between 2011 and 2018 there were only 11 cases reported. There were no cases reported in a number of these years and, between 2012 and 2017, there were only two cases reported – one in 2013 and another two years later.

Measles, which is highly contagious, can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded the alarm in recent months over slipping global vaccination rates.

Earlier this year, the WHO had flagged the issue with a rapid increase in measles cases on a global level. At the time, preliminary figures had shown that measles cases rose 300% worldwide through the first three months of 2019 when compared to the same period last year.

According to the Superintendent of Public Health, Charmaine Gauci, after a number of years with no cases of the disease, in 2018 there were five imported cases and one local transmission. 

Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated

“This year, we have already seen over 15 locally acquired cases. Most of the cases occurred in adults who were not vaccinated,” Dr Gauci said when the preliminary figures came out.

In its report on this year’s data, the WHO noted a “dramatic resurgence of measles compared to previous years” in the European region, with 49 of the 53 countries in the region together having reported over 160,000 measles cases and over 100 measles-related deaths by the end of May. 

“High national-level coverage can mask pockets of low coverage at the local level, resulting in an accumulation of susceptible individuals that often goes unrecognised until outbreaks occur. An enhanced response is needed to protect all populations in the region from this dangerous disease,” WHO said. It has set the ambitious goal of achieving measles and rubella elimination in at least five of its regions by 2020.