The International Task Force for Disease Eradication (ITFDE) met at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia in November, 2015 to review and discuss the potential eradicability of measles and rubella. The ITFDE was formed nearly thirty years ago to evaluate disease control and prevention, and the potential to eradicate eight infectious diseases.

The ITFDE still firmly believes that both measles and rubella eradication are technically feasible, while noting that a number of vital factors require sustained global commitment and significant increases to both human and financial resources. In its final report, the ITFDE notes that combining measles and rubella eradication provides “enormous additional benefit” and that “the opportunity exists to position measles-rubella elimination as the highest disease control priority within GVAP and to instil real accountability for achieving these goals.”

While the decrease in measles mortality is among the main contributors to the decline in overall child mortality and progress toward Millennium Development Goal 4, measles and rubella elimination efforts have been “greatly overshadowed in magnitude of resources and political commitment by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.”

At the turn of the century, measles was one of the top five leading killers of children with an estimated 546,800 deaths globally. Measles deaths have since dropped 79% to an estimated 114,900 in 2014. The ITFDE stresses that this mortality burden is entirely unacceptable given the availability of a cheap and effective vaccine for the past 50 years.

The panel also acknowledged the progress of introducing the use of rubella vaccine in lower-income countries which has greatly decreased the number of reported CRS and rubella cases, now estimated at 100,000 per year.

A robust strategy is needed to communicate the urgency of measles and rubella eradication to decision-makers, identify champions, and promote as an issue of global equity for children. The impending completion of polio eradication opens a window of opportunity to devote greater attention to measles and rubella eradication so the time to act is now.

The full report is published in the 12 February 2016 edition of WHO’s World Epidemiological Record.

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