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Rubella Elimination Advancing, Experts Say

Mexico, November 4, 2004 (PAHO)—A continental plan to eliminate rubella in the Americas is advancing and should reach its target of 2010, experts at a Pan American Health Organization technical meeting said here today.

Rubella and its associated Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which can kill children or cause serious congenital defects, can be eliminated by 2010 with continuing vaccination and improved surveillance, said Dr. Carlos Castillo Solórzano of PAHO's Immunization Unit.

Speaking at the Technical Advisory Group on Vaccine Preventable Diseases, where more than 200 experts are discussing the best ways to control vaccine-preventable diseases, Castillo said, "Since the introduction of the vaccine and the vaccination campaigns, rubella incidence has fallen 99.5 percent, from 135,000 reported cases in 1998 to only 923 cases in 2003."

In the United States, rubella cases dropped to a record low of eight cases in 2003, said Dr. Susan Reef, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "With this continuing downward trend, these record low numbers of reported cases may be insufficient to support ongoing endemic transmission of the rubella virus."

The region's health authorities have committed themselves to eliminating rubella, or German measles, from the Americas by 2010. Though rubella causes minor symptoms in adults, its congenital form can cause serious birth defects or death to babies.

Dr. Jon K. Andrus, chief of PAHO's immunization unit, said eliminating rubella is the next target in a string of vaccine successes, which have included the global eradication of smallpox, eradication of polio in the Americas, and elimination of measles and neonatal tetanus. Initiatives that began in the Americas, such as polio, have spread to other regions, Andrus said.

But a global polio eradication plan suffered serious setbacks in Africa when authorities in Kano, Nigeria, suspended vaccination and a multi-country epidemic broke out, according to Dr. Bruce Aylward, coordinator of the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Immunization resumed there in July, and a series of mass campaigns in 22 African countries is "targeting 74 million children to get the eradication effort in Africa back on track for its year-end 2005 target," he said.

There are also still small areas of polio transmission in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Egypt, and success of the global eradication effort depends on oversight by community and other leaders in areas with polio, as well as closing a $200 million funding gap, and continued surveillance and routine vaccination, Aylward added.

Dr. Julio Frenk, Mexico's Secretary of Health, used the occassion of the TAG meeting to present an award to its long-time chairman, Dr. D.A. Henderson, who was made an honorary member of the National Academy of Medicine in a special ceremony there.

"D.A. Henderson has achieved successes that have no precedent," Frenk said. "His actions saved hundreds of thousands of lives. In a time when we had 10 to 15 million smallpox cases in 43 countries around the world, he took charge of this effort, mobilized $100 million and eradicated smallpox. Then in 1971 he asked to expand this program to include other vaccines, marking the start of the Expanded Program on Immunization. His many and varied achievements, including strengthening health systems to prepare against bioterrorism and emerging diseases, are deserving of this great honor."

PAHO, established in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.



For additional information, contact Daniel Epstein, PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3459.


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