Rubella yet to be eliminated despite concerted efforts — WHO

It can spread through close contact or through the air

In Summary

• The WHO says lack of proper surveillance can make vaccine-preventable diseases to quickly resurface

• Ninety per cent of women who get rubella in the early first 12 weeks of pregnancy will pass it on to their unborn babies

Health CS Sicily Kariuki
Health CS Sicily Kariuki

Countries have been urged to have high vaccination coverage and maintain surveillance to ensure prevention and early detection of rubella.

The World Health Organization says that despite more than half of the world's infants being protected against the disease, three in 10 children still lack access.

Rubella, also called German measles, is a highly contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash. It spreads through close contact or the air.

It may pass from person to person through contact with tiny drops of fluid from the nose and throat when sneezing and coughing.

Rubella is a mild infection but brings immense health risks if a woman contracts it when pregnant.

Ninety per cent of women who get rubella in the early first 12 weeks of pregnancy will pass it on to their unborn babies.

According to WHO, this can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or congenital rubella syndrome in the baby, a condition that includes severe birth defects and lifelong disability, like vision and hearing impairments and heart defects.

“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,” a rubella expert at WHO said.

Complications include ear infections, pneumonia, and encephalitis or inflammation of the brain that can lead to permanent neurologic damage and even death.

The Health Ministry rolled out a nation-wide measles-rubella campaign in 2016 after noting an increase in rubella and outbreaks.

Kenya offers an MMR vaccine as a combined vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.

Children receive the first dose at around 13 months and another at three to five years, before they start school.

“Stopping rubella for good means not only introducing the vaccine but also building the strong immunisation and healthcare systems that will ensure no child misses out on essential vaccinations,” WHO head of immunization programme, Dr Kate O’Brien said.

The WHO says lack of proper surveillance can make vaccine-preventable diseases to quickly resurface.

“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,” O’Brien added.

Though it is not the same as measles, the two illnesses share some characteristics, including the red rash.

Rubella has been eliminated from the United States, but severe outbreaks recur elsewhere – including, most recently, Japan in 2018-19.

The WHO estimates that globally, around 100,000 children are born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome every year.