UNITED NATIONS - The number of measles cases reported worldwide in the first three months of 2019 has tripled compared with the same time last year, according to the United Nations health agency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said provisional data indicated that a “a clear trend”, with all regions of the world seeing outbreaks. Africa had witnessed the most dramatic rise - up 700%, it said. The agency said actual numbers may be far greater, since only one in 10 cases globally were reported.

“Cases have soared across the world, including in places where measles had previously been eliminated, like the United States”, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a joint statement.

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can sometimes lead to serious health complications, including infections of the lungs and brain, it was pointed out.

Ukraine, Madagascar and India have been worst affected by the disease, with tens of thousands of reported cases per million people. Since September, at least 800 people have died from measles in Madagascar alone.