Do you know the rubella vaccine? It’s the “R” at the end of MMR – the combination vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella that has protected millions of people globally from illness and death. Most people reading this would have been vaccinated against rubella as a baby or possibly in adolescence. You might also know rubella as “German measles”.
Rubella infection is actually quite mild for most. However it can be a tragedy for a pregnant woman, causing serious lifelong birth defects for her newborn including heart problems, blindness and deafness. These complications are known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome, or “CRS”. In 2008 an estimated 112,000 babies were born with CRS, and most of these kids live in the poorest countries.
But there is an exciting breakthrough today. At its meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the GAVI Alliance board announced a new opportunity for these countries to receive funds for combined measles and rubella (or “MR”) vaccination campaigns. GAVI projects that up to 30 countries will apply and that by 2015 an additional 588 million kids will be vaccinated against measles and rubella.
“Funding from the GAVI Alliance for measles and rubella vaccine campaigns will help countries to rapidly scale up introduction of rubella vaccine, protect their populations and contribute to the elimination of measles and rubella,” said Dr. Jean Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of Immunization, WHO, in a statement on behalf of the Measles Initiative.
The Measles Initiative has already provided more than 1 billion measles vaccines and contributed to saving 4.3 million lives. Countries of the world aim to reduce measles-related deaths by 95% by 2015, and many regions have rubella control goals. The circulation of measles and rubella viruses can be completely stopped if the vast majority of people are protected with the MR or MMR vaccine. If you live in the Americas you won’t have seen a native rubella virus for a long time – the region is in the process of confirming rubella’s elimination.
Now poorer countries will have the chance to apply for GAVI funds to vaccinate their young people in nationwide measles and rubella campaigns. The Measles Initiative looks forward to working closely with these countries and GAVI on this exciting new chapter in global health. Three cheers for the R!
For more on rubella and measles you can look at WHO’s topic pages: www.who.int/topics/rubella www.who.int/topics/measles.
You can learn more about the Measles Initiative at www.MeaslesInitiative.org and even contribute to buy vaccine for young people. For more on the good work of the GAVI Alliance see www.GaviAlliance.org.