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Measles deaths have dropped 84 percent since 2000

Some good news in health care: Deaths from measles are at an all-time low.

measles mumps rubella vaccine Sean Gallup/Staff

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There is plenty of bad news in the world right now. So I want to kick this year off with some good news — actually great news — from the world of global public health. Because it turns out, when you start looking, we're actually made some major strides in 2017 on making our planet a healthier, safer place to live.

The good news: Deaths from measles are at an all-time low. The World Health Organization reported earlier this year that, for the first time ever, the number of deaths from measles has fallen below 100,000. Measles deaths have fallen from 550,100 in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016. That works out to a decline of 84 percent over 16 years.

The decline is largely due to increasing availability of the measles vaccine. As the New York Times reports, much of this work has been done through a non-profit called Gavi:

Since 2000, 5.5 billion doses have been given out, according to Gavi, the Geneva-based organization through which most donors support the vaccination effort. The group works with the W.H.O., the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation and others.

Vaccination is especially important with measles because it is an incredibly infectious disease — it spreads easier than Ebola or HIV, for example. As Julia Belluz has reported for Vox, one person with measles can infect about 12 to 18 other people.

"What worries health officials is that the measles virus can spread in a person four days before the onset of the telltale rash," Belluz noted. "So people with the virus start being contagious before they’d ever know they had measles."

What's more, in the US, states are actually doing a pretty decent job responding to measles outbreaks in a way to make them less likely in the future.

You likely saw a lot of coverage of the 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland, which ultimately resulted in 147 cases of the disease. What you likely heard less about was what happened afterwards. California passed a new law that made it significantly harder for parents to exempt their children from the vaccination. And that law, according to data reported on by the Los Angeles Times, worked:

The percentage of California’s kindergartners with all required vaccinations as of last fall rose from 92.8% to 95.6%. Los Angeles County’s rate jumped from 90% to 95%, and Orange County’s rose from 92.5% to 95.5%.

Vaccination rates for whooping cough rose in tandem with the measles vaccination rate, as you can see in the chart below.

The reduction in measles cases — and rise in vaccination rates in California — is undeniably great news. It means a healthier world, and that is certainly something to celebrate in the new year.

Chart of the Day

The Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker updates their spending data — and finds we're still in an era of slow health care cost growth. When you focus on 2010 through 2016, you see that growth of health care spending is closer to growth of the overall economy than ever before. Read the report.

Kliff’s Notes

With research help from Caitlin Davis

Today's top news

  • “House gears up for 340B oversight push”: “Pressure over the status of a federal drug discount program has intensified on Capitol Hill as Medicare reimbursement cuts for 340B hospitals have officially gone into effect.” —Susannah Luthi, Modern Healthcare
  • “Credit rater predicts stable year for ObamaCare markets”: “The ObamaCare insurance markets will be relatively stable through 2018, analysts predicted Wednesday. Insurers have adapted to the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration's handling of the law, A.M. Best, a global credit rating organization, wrote in a briefing released Wednesday.” —Jessie Hellmann, the Hill
  • “It's unclear what gets done this month on health care”: “Congress still has the same long list of health care problems to solve as it has had since the fall. The Children's Health Insurance Program needs to be reauthorized, the individual insurance market likely needs to be stabilized, and the health care industry really wants some Affordable Care Act taxes to be delayed. But it's unclear how much of that will be addressed this month.” —Caitlin Owens, Axios

Analysis and longer reads

  • “GOP Obamacare quandary — easy to hate, hard to kill”: “The GOP is so divided on Obamacare, they don’t have the votes to achieve either objective — repeal or stabilization. That means former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment could keep limping along, crippled by the repeal of the individual mandate in the tax law but lifted by the surprisingly strong enrollment for the coming year.” —Jennifer Haberkorn, Politico
  • “Why the U.S. Spends So Much More Than Other Nations on Health Care”: “The United States spends almost twice as much on health care, as a percentage of its economy, as other advanced industrialized countries — totaling $3.3 trillion, or 17.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2016. But a few decades ago American health care spending was much closer to that of peer nations. What happened?” —Austin Frakt and Aaron E. Carroll, New York Times
  • “Metrics and Their Unintended Consequences”: “All metrics will be gamed, and the games always have costs. And when the metrics involve our health, those costs can be very high indeed.” —Megan McArdle, Bloomberg

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