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Americas region free of rubella

SHERRYLYN TOPPIN, [email protected]

Americas region free of rubella

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THE AMERICAS REGION, which includes Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean, has become the first region in the world to be declared free of the endemic transmission of rubella.

The declaration of the elimination of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) was made by the International Expert Committee for Measles and Rubella Elimination in the Americas during a recent meeting of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in Washington DC.

This brings to four the number of vaccine–preventable diseases to be eliminated from the Americas, the other two being smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

PAHO/WHO Director, Carissa F. Etienne noted: “The elimination of rubella from the Americas is an historic achievement that reflects the collective will of our region’s countries to work together to achieve ambitious public health milestones… All four achievements prove the value of immunisation and how important it is to make vaccines available even to the remotest corners of our hemisphere.”   

There were widespread outbreaks of rubella, also known as German measles, throughout the Americas before the introduction of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.

Although the virus is usually mild or asymptomatic, when contracted by pregnant women, it can cause miscarriage, or CRS, which is a constellation of birth defects including blindness, deafness and congenital heart defects.

Before the mass-scale MMR vaccination campaign, between 16 000 and 20 000 children were born with CRS every year in Latin America and the Caribbean, and there were more than 158 000 rubella cases reported in 1997 alone.

PAHO/WHO Director Etienne said that with the realisation of this goal, the region’s efforts will now be concentrated on eliminating measles as well. (BGIS)