How bad is measles around the world?

Willie Grace | 2/6/2015, 10:41 a.m. | Updated on 2/6/2015, 10:41 a.m.
The differences of the two settings are stark. In one, people are fighting for survival and have difficulty getting health ...

(CNN) -- Measles this year has hit the most disparate places: camps for internally displaced people in northeast Nigeria, who've had to flee from Boko Haram, and Disneyland in California.

The differences of the two settings are stark. In one, people are fighting for survival and have difficulty getting health care; the other is a first-world amusement park where people can afford medical choices regarding a vaccine-preventable disease.

The United States is grappling with the resurgence of a disease it eliminated 15 years ago. But it's not alone.

Data by the World Health Organization indicate that measles immunization rates are declining in several Western countries, like Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Spain, as some parents are opting out due to personal beliefs.

The data also show that more than 100 countries, including Zimbabwe, Iran and North Korea, have higher measles immunization rates than the United States, which was at 91%.

Global progress

Dr. Robert Kezaala, senior health adviser of immunization at UNICEF, spent years promoting polio and measles vaccines in Africa.

"Generally, in the developing world, people welcome the vaccines," he said. "The vaccine hesitancy, concern among the elite ... this is not a major issue in immunization against measles, because people have seen devastation from the outbreaks."

Globally, measles deaths hit record lows in 2012, which the WHO attributed to successful immunization campaigns as annual deaths declined to 122,000 from 562,000 in 2002.

But the WHO warned that progress was fragile, because outbreaks still occur and measles remains one of the leading killers of children in the world. A joint global plan involving UNICEF, the WHO, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Red Cross and UN Foundation aims to eliminate measles by 2020.

"In the last two to three years, we've seen more stagnation of progress because there is complacency," said Kezaala.

Post-typhoon Philippines rocked by measles

Asia has the most suspected case of measles, with China at top, followed by the Philippines and Vietnam, according to 2014 data from the WHO. But the rate, rather than raw numbers, offers a more accurate measure of the disease.

One of the countries worst hit by the measles is the Philippines, which was struck by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The spread of the virus has been exacerbated by mass migration, with nearly 4 million people displaced by the devastating storm.

But what happens in the Philippines has a direct connection to the United States, because the virus can easily travel -- as was the case of the unvaccinated Amish missionaries who brought back measles from the Philippines to cause an Ohio outbreak that infected 383 people in 2014.

The CDC reported that 25 U.S. travelers, most of them unvaccinated, got ill with the measles after returning from the Philippines last year.

China sees increased measles outbreak

China, which had the most measles cases in 2014, is also going through multiple outbreaks. Measles has been reported in a university in Shanxi province and a downtown Beijing office, resulting in quarantines and vaccinations for thousands of people, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency.