On September 13th, the WHO South-East Asia Regional Committee announced a new commitment to eliminate measles and control rubella by 2020. With this announcement, they became the sixth and final WHO region to resolve to eliminate measles and the fourth region to commit to a deadline for rubella control or elimination.

Why is this commitment to measles and rubella control and elimination so critical?

Measles is highly contagious, and one of the leading causes of death among children around the world. In 2011, an estimated 158,000 people died of measles – equivalent to more than 400 every day. Children under the age of five living in low-income countries with weak health infrastructures comprised the majority of fatalities.

  1. Rubella is a serious threat to healthy pregnancies and newborns. Rubella, also known as German Measles, is often a mild disease; some patients experience a fever and rash, while others do not take notice of any symptoms at all. However, if contracted by a woman in her first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, rubella can lead to Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) in the fetus, and can eventually cause severe growth and mental retardation, deafness and other developmental problems. Though the burden of CRS is not well documented, the WHO estimates that in developing countries alone 100,000 cases of CRS occur each year.
  2. It costs just $1 to purchase and deliver the combined measles-rubella vaccine. Measles and other vaccines are widely recognized as one of the best buys in public health.  The use of the measles rubella vaccine saves lives as well as income for families that is lost when a child becomes ill.  Furthermore, measles vaccination campaigns often include other life-saving interventions and have expanded access to malaria prevention, deworming, polio vaccination and Vitamin A distribution.
  3. Approximately one in five child deaths averted since 1990 are because of measles vaccination.    Globally, measles deaths have been reduced by 71% – from an estimated 548,000 in 2000 to 158,000 in 2011 – and rubella and CRS were eliminated in the Americas through the effective use of vaccination.  This represents an impressive contribution to Millennium Development Goal 4. 
  4. Nearly half of global measles deaths and CSR cases occur in South-East Asia. South-East Asia’s recent commitment to measles and rubella is particularly promising, given that about 45% of global measles deaths occurred in countries in the region in 2011, with more than half of those in India. Nearly half of the babies affected with congenital rubella disabilities worldwide are born in the region. 

Sabin applauds this recent news given our long-standing commitment to reducing the burden of both measles and rubella.  Sabin is undertaking a series of advocacy activities to promote prevention of rubella and CRS throughout the world. 

Along with the International Pediatric Association (IPA), Sabin is a member of the Measles and Rubella Initiative Led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, the Measles & Rubella Initiative (MRI) is a global partnership committed to ensuring no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome.  

Earlier this year Sabin & IPA facilitated the attendance of pediatric society leaders from 24 countries around the region to attend the SEARO Regional Consultation on Measles Elimination and Rubella/CRS Control, held in Kathmandu, Nepal. The Consultation contained many important presentations and as a conclusion, all member states reaffirmed the feasibility of Measles Elimination in the region by 2020; which has been clearly reflected in the recent decision of the Regional Committee. 

Sabin remains an active member of the MRI and will continue to advocate for the global end of measles and rubella.  In November 2013 Sabin, together with the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa will convene the Regional Consultation on Measles and Rubella  Elimination in Africa.  This meeting to be held in Accra, Ghana will gather health officials from the region along with National Pediatric Society representatives and other immunization stakeholders to review the progress and challenges as well as identify priority actions and recommendations to move this agenda forward.

Photo by Daniel Julie/ CC