We can “literally change the fate of millions of children around the world,” said Gail McGovern, as she opened the Measles & Rubella Initiative’s Partnership meeting in Washington D.C on September 18th. The President and CEO of the American Red Cross went on to praise the strategy to combat two diseases – measles and rubella – with one vaccine, calling it a “priceless return on investment.”
Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the U.S. CDC, underscored that increased coverage with measles vaccine had prevented almost 10 million deaths between 2000 and 2010, and stressed that “there is much we can achieve with this Initiative – beyond mortality reductions and the regional disease elimination targets – to strengthen health systems.”
In his videotaped message, Dr. Frieden also warned that past gains on measles mortality reduction could be lost without adequate financial and political commitment. “We must persevere,” he told the audience of more than 100 people gathered in the American Red Cross’ historic Hall of Service.
As keynote speaker, Dr. Louis Z. Cooper, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Columbia University and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reminded partners of the human tragedy of congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), by presenting results from long-term research on rubella and CRS started by the Rubella Project in New York City shortly after detection of the rubella virus in 1962.
“CRS, beginning at birth, is a lifelong chronic disease. Its irreversible, often multiple defects may include deafness, blindness, heart conditions, mental retardation and autism,” Dr Cooper explained, showing results from the study of more than 1000 children affected by CRS in New York. He stressed that CRS has underappreciated human and economic costs, as people with CRS often require expensive medical, surgical, special education and support care their entire lives.
“We have an inexpensive, effective vaccine against rubella. No family need suffer CRS,” said Dr. Cooper. “We have the power to eliminate measles, rubella and CRS, and we simply must. The Measles and Rubella Initiative is our best bet to achieve this.”
Partners were also honoured to welcome Dr. Samuel L. Katz, co-developer of the measles vaccine, and Dr. Stanley Plotkin, developer of the rubella vaccine, to the meeting.
Participants also heard Helen Evans, Deputy CEO of GAVI, present GAVI’s support to measles and rubella vaccination in a clear slide presentation.
At a reception for partners, award-winning and beloved illustrator Sophie Blackall unveiled her new exhibit dedicated to the story of measles elimination based on her journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this year.
The meeting heard about the latest global progress in measles and rubella control and elimination; the Measles & Rubella Initiative plans for the next decade; surveillance; the research agenda; regional and country progress including in China and India, the African, European and Western Pacific Regions; updates on Haiti and Ecuador; partner contributions; measles in emergency settings; results of research into the links between measles SIAs and routine immunization; an update on the investment case for measles and rubella; successful strategies for social mobilization and a new global communications strategy.