Rubella infection in early pregnancy can result in foetal death or birth defects
Measles remains one of the top vaccine-preventable killers of children
Rubella is no longer the threat it once was in many countries, thanks to widespread vaccination. But for millions of mothers and their children in developing countries, it poses an ongoing danger.
According to WHO, more than 100,000 babies are born with congenital rubella syndrome each year. The majority are in Africa and South-East Asia. Although rubella vaccine has been available since the 1970s, it is still underused in these regions.
Measles is highly contagious and remains one of the top vaccine-preventable killers of children. Thanks to the widespread introduction of measles vaccine, global measles deaths have fallen dramatically. But progress has stalled and outbreaks continue in Africa and Europe.
Rubella usually affects children and young adults. It is considered a mild illness, except in pregnant women. When a woman is infected with the rubella virus early in pregnancy, she has a 90% risk of passing the virus on to her foetus. This can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or severe birth defects known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).
Africa and South-East Asia have the highest number of estimated CRS cases. At the same time, they have the lowest uptake of rubella-containing vaccine. In 2015 more than 30 Gavi-supported countries, mostly in Africa, did not use rubella vaccine as part of their routine programmes.
Before 2001, more than 750,000 children died every year from measles, whose symptoms include high fever and a severe skin rash.
Global measles deaths fell by 79% from an estimated 562,000 in 2000 to approximately 115,000 in 2014. This was largely helped by the Measles & Rubella Initiative, a global partnership committed to ensuring no child dies from measles or is born with congenital rubella syndrome. Still, measles remains a pressing public health issue, which kills more than 300 people every day.