A new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown that despite progress recorded worldwide in combating Rubella virus, three out of ten children are still not protected from the disease.
The study conducted by WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that for the first time, more than half of the world’s infants are protected against the incapacitating rubella virus. However, a large number of children globally are still at risk of getting infected.
Rubella virus, also known as chickenpox or German measles, is an acute, contagious viral infection.
Reduction in cases
WHO in a statement released on its website on Friday said although more than 80 countries have eliminated the disease, many children are still bearing the brunt of the disease, especially when pregnant women get infected with the disease in their first trimester. There is often a tendency that the disease will be transmitted to the fetus and this causes congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
Every year, a global estimate of about 100,000 children are born with CRS.
WHO said progress has been achieved in the elimination for the disease through broadening access to the safe and highly effective rubella vaccine – especially across lower-income countries.
“This vaccine has been shown to prevent more than 95 per cent of rubella infections. However, 26 countries (Nigeria excluded) are yet to introduce the rubella vaccine, leaving 3 in 10 children globally without access. The greatest gaps persist in Africa, where roughly 6 in 10 countries are yet to make the vaccine routinely available to infants,” it said
Although the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) is part of the recommended childhood immunisation schedule in Nigeria, the country still reports cases of the disease. The major problem in Nigeria remains the low immunization coverage rate.
WHO attested to the problem saying even in countries that have the vaccine in their schedules, significant gaps in access and uptake can persist – potentially leaving large numbers of people still vulnerable to infections with the rubella virus.
The head of WHO’s immunisation programme, Kate O’Brien, said: “stopping rubella for good means not only introducing the vaccine but also building the strong immunization and healthcare systems that will ensure no child misses out on essential vaccinations.”
“It will take political and community leadership and commitment to ensure elimination targets are set, achieved, and sustained, so that rubella can become a disease of the past, in every part of the world,” she said.
Also, an expert in rubella at WHO and author of the report, Shalini Desai, advocated for continuous vaccination especially in countries where the disease has been eliminated.
He said “there is no room for complacency. Even in countries that have eliminated the disease, the job is not yet done. The only way to ensure protection against rubella is to make sure that all children are vaccinated against it, alongside surveillance systems that are strong enough to quickly detect cases and respond rapidly to stop the spread – especially to pregnant women.”
WHO has also recommended that rubella vaccine must be included in national immunization schedules.
Often this vaccine is given in combination with measles and sometimes mumps vaccines, meaning it can be easily and affordably introduced into existing programmes. This is known as the MMR vaccine.
Mr Desai said it is also important for countries to have strong disease surveillance systems in place that will accurately detect rubella and CRS if it occurs because cases can be imported even where diseases have become rare.
Some facts about rubella Virus also known as (Chickenpox and German measles)
1. Both children and adult can be infected with the disease
2. Rubella is an acute, contagious viral infection.
3. Rubella is the leading vaccine-preventable cause of birth defects.
4. Rubella virus infection usually causes a mild fever and rash in children and adults, infection during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, can result in miscarriage, fetal death, stillbirth, or infants with congenital malformations, known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
5. Rubella infection in early pregnancy can lead to conditions such as severe birth defects and lifelong disability, like vision and hearing impairments and heart defects.
6. Deafness occurs in about two-thirds of all those born with CRS.
7. If you’re not immune, you should receive the vaccine at least one month before you become pregnant.
8. Rubella virus is transmitted by airborne droplets when infected people sneeze or cough. Humans are the only known host.
There is no specific treatment for rubella but the disease is preventable by vaccination.
10. About 25 per cent of adult women receiving MMR vaccine develops temporary joint pain, a symptom related to the rubella component of the combined vaccine.
11. In many countries, thanks to vaccination, rubella, and CRS have been eliminated.
12. Though Rubella is vaccine-preventable, the disease will always resurface wherever people are unvaccinated.
13. In most cases of rubella, symptoms appear within 16 to 18 days after exposure to the virus.