Member-countries of the World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region have resolved to eliminate highly infectious childhood killer diseases measles and rubella by 2023.
“The new target to eliminate both the diseases will leverage the existing momentum and a strong political commitment, which is being demonstrated through unprecedented efforts, progress and successes in recent years,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia.
A resolution to eliminate the diseases was adopted at the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia in Delhi.
Measles is particularly dangerous for the poor, as it attacks malnourished children and those with reduced immunity. It can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia, while rubella/ congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) causes irreversible birth defects.
“Eliminating measles will prevent 500,000 deaths a year in the region, while eliminating rubella/ CRS would avert about 55,000 cases of rubella and promote health and wellbeing of pregnant women and infants,” Dr. Singh said.
Measles elimination and rubella control has been a regional flagship priority since 2014. Bhutan, DPR Korea, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have eliminated measles and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have controlled rubella.
To achieve the new targets, the member-countries resolved to strengthen the immunisation systems for increasing and sustaining high level of population immunity against the two diseases at both the national and sub-national levels.
The resolution calls for ensuring a highly sensitive laboratory supported case-based surveillance system – better evidence for appropriate planning and response. It also emphasises on preparedness for outbreak response activities.
All countries pledged to mobilise political, societal and financial support to ensure the interruption of transmission of indigenous measles and rubella virus by 2023.