Public health experts in Turkey have warned of an increasing number of measles cases among young children, saying 3,000 cases were recorded in the first six months of this year, the Birgün daily reported.
Experts urged authorities to investigate why vaccination numbers had dropped and to especially focus on poor neighborhoods and anti-vaccine groups. They added that undocumented migrants, people living in poverty, in slums and in rural areas were most at risk of contracting measles.
Experts also warned that a serious measles outbreak was certain if authorities did not take precautions to increase vaccinations among the public.
Public health expert and Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Dr. Kayıhan Pala said he submitted a parliamentary question to the Ministry of Health concerning the ministry’s measles vaccination program. However, the ministry did not respond to his question.
“Anti-vaccine tendencies have exponentially increased after the Covid-19 pandemic, with many people refusing to get vaccinated,” he said. “But anti-vaccine isn’t even the main reason people are not getting measles vaccinations. Unfortunately, many people simply do not have access to a primary care physician who can give them correct information on vaccination schedules and monitor these schedules.”
Pala said this was particularly upsetting since the measles vaccine was free of charge and that poverty should not stand in the way of public health.
Dr. Mehmet Ceyhan, chairman of the Infectious Diseases Association, shared a post on social media saying that in some cases measles had devastating long-term health consequences for children.
“We have been trying to raise awareness of the devastating effects of measles since the pandemic, where anti-vaccine propaganda really started to spread. There are many websites that have been spreading false information on vaccines, and although we have warned authorities, none of them have been taken down,” he explained.
Measles cases have surged in Turkey, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) the country has presented the most cases in Europe in 2023.
Contrary to WHO numbers, Turkish Minister of Health Fahrettin Koca said 95 percent of the country was vaccinated against measles and nearly 92 percent among migrants. He claimed the measles epidemic was under control and that most cases were concentrated in Istanbul.
The ministry has been criticized for a lack of transparency about the number of measles cases and deaths from the infection.