Can rubella be wiped out in Europe by 2015?

Dr Harish Madhava

Editorial Board

August 8th, 2012

Dr Harish Madhava
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RubellaThere were almost 4,000 suspected rubella cases in Europe in 2011. In the first half of this year, there were three times as many. Health officials continue to work towards the elimination of the disease in three years’ time but face mounting challenges.

More than 15,000 rubella cases have been reported in the Region this year, with most cases occurring in Romania, Poland, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Romania accounted for 12,500 of the total, although the trend in new cases there is showing signs of decline after a severe outbreak which began at the end of last year. However, the number of new cases is rising in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Babies at risk

WHO Europe has launched a new Rubella fact sheet to raise awareness of the condition in an effort to eliminate congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), a condition affecting the normal development of several of the baby’s organs.

CRS can result in a range of serious health problems ranging from deafness and cataracts to heart problems and mental retardation.

While countries in the 53-member region covered by WHO Europe now target all babies – male and female – with two doses of vaccine, there are major differences in the prevalence of disease across the region.

Mixed picture

While Romania has been dealing with a major outbreak in rubella, Scandinavian countries are close to being “rubella free” and 28 European countries reported no new cases of the disease this year so far.

Strong surveillance systems and comprehensive immunisation programmes are just some of the lessons to be learned from the success of countries like Sweden and Norway.

The European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC) is responsible for monitoring elimination efforts in Europe. The 2015 target for wiping out the disease in Europe is part of a wider global goal of eliminating rubella in at least five WHO regions.

Rubella has already been beaten in a number of countries, including the US and Cuba, and the Scandinavian nations may soon be added to that list. Ensuring that the list of ‘rubella free’ countries gets longer rather than shorter will require a sustained effort across Europe and around the world.

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