I'm seeing a claim trending on social media that more than 900 people died of measles in Madagascar recently. I'm referring to this article, which opens with:

Geneva: At least 922 people have died in a measles outbreak in Madagascar, the majority of them children, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

I don't see a link to their source though. I'm seeing other articles linking back to the Sydney Morning Herald, but not the report itself that they refer to. (For example, this one and this Reddit thread both use it as their source.)

Further on, the article states:

In a report released last week, the WHO wrote that the outbreak was "unprecedented" and "occurred in a context of poor performance of routine vaccination."

That report listed 300 deaths and 53,000 infections. The dramatic increase in such a short time is due to a more complete collection of data in Madagascar, a spokesman said on Friday.

300 contradicts with 900 deaths. Can anyone find the actual report and confirm or refute the figure?

  • Asked because I was about to share the article myself, and then noticed the 300 vs 900 contradiction. Feb 18, 2019 at 7:46
  • I wonder if you aren't misreading the article. "The dramatic increase in such a short time is due to a more complete collection of data in Madagascar, a spokesman said on Friday" appears to me to be using "a short time" to refer to the time between the two reports. Feb 18, 2019 at 13:00
  • Great question to ask! Combating the anti-vaxxer brigade requires a strict adherence o fact based statistics, not expanded hyperbole. Thanks for checking in about a number that seemed odd - I hadn't spotted that news story and am sad to hear we are now seeing death numbers rise. I recently did a paper at uni where the underlying premise was numbers of cases of measles will rise as rates of vaccination goes down. I am tempted o re-run the results of that and see what falls out!
    – kiltannen
    Feb 19, 2019 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


This is the original WHO Disease Outbreak News, dated 2019-01-17. It states 39 "facility-based" deaths between 2018-10-04 and 2019-01-07.

This is the -- at the time of this writing -- lated WHO Outbreaks and Emergencies Bulletin update, dated 2019-02-10. It states 312 deaths between 2018-09-03 and 2019-02-05.

I did not find a 900+ number of deaths cited in WHO documents. That number ("more than 922") is attributed to a Dr. Katrina Kretsinger of WHO's expanded program on immunization, at a news briefing on 2019-02-14 or 2019-02-15 (depending on which article you're reading). Your own link stated:

"The dramatic increase in such a short time is due to a more complete collection of data in Madagascar [...]"

I suspect the next weekly Outbreaks and Emergencies Bulletin update to reflect that data, but so far the claim lacks a second independent source.


The WHO Outbreaks and Emergencies Bulletin dated 2019-02-17 lists 828 dead from 2018-09-03 until 2019-02-11. This makes the "more than 922" attributed to Dr. Kretsinger's statement (which was after 2019-02-11) quite plausible.


The WHO Outbreaks and Emergencies Bulletin dated 2019-02-24 extends the reporting period to 2019-02-15, and still lists 828 dead. It looks as if the worst is over.

  • 12
    @JeromeViveiros: May I mention that I "solved" this question by entering "measles madagascar site:who.int" in my search engine?
    – DevSolar
    Feb 18, 2019 at 8:18
  • 8
    @JeromeViveiros: Yes, the "not linked" part is something that I find irritating as hell myself. After all, that's what HTML is for. It makes referencing your sources so easy...
    – DevSolar
    Feb 18, 2019 at 8:28
  • 6
    @Orangesandlemons: You know that drill about "one source is attributable, two sources are reportable"? You can absolutely attribute 922 dead to "Dr. Katrina Kretsinger at a WHO news briefing, according to Reuters". To claim as fact, that's not sufficient IMHO.
    – DevSolar
    Feb 18, 2019 at 12:09
  • 4
    @DanielRHicks: At no point did I assume, or denounce, that number as "made up". But from "not made up" to "reportable" it's quite some distance to walk. Why not go with the reportable "over 300 as of two weeks ago" until the quotable reports are updated?
    – DevSolar
    Feb 18, 2019 at 16:10
  • 8
    news.un.org/en/story/2019/02/1032771 is a better source for the 922, as it's a UN source.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 18, 2019 at 17:28

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