Intended for healthcare professionals


“Tragedy” of 35 deaths from measles in Europe last year is unacceptable, says WHO

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 19 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k795 graph showing declining measles vaccination rates in Romania, Ukraine and Italy between 2000 and 2016, graph showing increasing measles incidence in Romania, Ukraine and Italy between 2012 and 2017,

WHO’s exaggerated language must end.

In 2017 in WHO’s European Region (population 915 million, 53 countries) (1) there were 21 315 cases of measles (26% in Romania) with 35 deaths (0.038 death per million), a “tragedy” according to WHO Regional Director when releasing data for the meeting about European Vaccine Action Plan with 11 health ministers.(1)

The Director should be more concerned by discrepancies in life expectancy at 65 years: 21 y in Switzerland where WHO headquarters are and 20 y in Denmark, where the European Region office is, vs 17 in Romania, 16 in the Russian Federation, 15 in Moldavia.

A search on WHO’s website for “tragedy” retrieved 770 documents. Among them one in 1994 about AIDS (4) and the most recent about Non Communicable Diseases which kill 15 million people per a year.(5) None of the 770 documents specifically concerned the European Region.

Talleyrand warned, “Exaggeration is the hallmark of the insignificant.” Sadly, hype is also counterproductive. Crying wolf damages the credibility of prevention policies.

WHO has not only overlooked warnings about creating panic during an epidemic,(5) but also has not learnt from its devastating communication about the “2009 influenza pandemic”.

Who nurtures vaccination-sceptics?


2 Kmietowicz Z. Tragedy” of 35 deaths from measles in Europe last year is unacceptable, says WHO. BMJ 2018;360:k795




Competing interests: No competing interests

20 February 2018
alain braillon
senior consultant
University hospital. 80000 Amiens. France