The following is the Measles Initiative’s statement welcoming the GAVI Alliance board’s decision on rubella and measles campaigns:
Today the Measles Initiative applauds the GAVI Alliance board decision to fund rubella campaigns in the countrieswith the greatest need. The decision will result in the introduction of a combined Measles and Rubella (MR) vaccine in many more countries. This will save lives, protect hundreds of thousands of children against birth defects and help to eliminate measles and rubella from the world.
During its meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh this week, the GAVI Alliance board approved a new funding window for rubella vaccine. This will allow countries to apply for funding for combined measles and rubella “catch-up” campaigns to vaccinate young people aged 9 months through 14 years old. These campaigns can build on the existing systems and lessons learned from measles campaigns supported by the Measles Initiative over the last decade. Countries would then fund the introduction of MR vaccine into their routine immunization programs following the campaigns.
“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 at the World Health Organization. “The Measles Initiative will work closely with the GAVI Alliance to help countries introduce rubella vaccine, build on the success of measles and other immunization campaigns and provide combined measles and rubella vaccines as part of routine health services.”
The Measles Initiative, which aims to eliminate measles, has also built rubella elimination into its strategic plan for 2011-2020. The vaccines can be combined for little additional cost and experts recommend that measles elimination strategies can also stop rubella transmission.
Rubella is generally a mild illness. However, when a pregnant woman becomes infected particularly during the first trimester, serious consequences can occur including miscarriage and stillbirths, and infants born with birth defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). The most common congenital defects include heart problems, deafness or blindness (cataracts). CRS remains a major public health problem with an estimated 112,000 cases occurring globally, of which 90,000 are in GAVI eligible countries.
Wide population coverage with rubella-containing vaccine can stop transmission of the rubella virus and completely prevent CRS. At about $0.50 per dose, the combination of measles and rubella vaccine is a cost-effective way to add both antigens to national immunization programs. Three WHO regions (Americas, Europe, Western Pacific) have rubella elimination and control programs but 63 countries have not yet introduced rubella-containing vaccine into their childhood immunization schedules. The WHO African and south-east Asian regions have not established goals for rubella control or elimination and have the highest number of CRS cases.
The Measles Initiative – a global health partnership led by the American Red Cross, United Nations Foundation, UNICEF, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization – has mobilized and invested
US $875 million in measles control activities, supporting the vaccination of more than 1 billion children in more than 80 countries. These efforts have helped to save an estimated 4.3 million lives, and contribute significantly to reduction in child mortality as per Millennium Development Goal 4. The Measles Initiative aims to reduce measles mortality by 95% by 2015 and eventually eliminate measles and rubella. The Measles Initiative has worked closely with GAVI on measles elimination efforts over the last decade.