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Measles and Rubella in WHO SEAR

  • 09 Jul 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Maldives and Sri Lanka have become the first two countries in the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asian Region (WHO SEAR) to have eliminated both measles and rubella ahead of the 2023 deadline.

  • In September 2019, member countries of WHO SEAR set 2023 as the target for the elimination of measles and rubella.

Key Points

  • The announcement came after the 5th meeting of the SEAR Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination.
    • The Commission comprises 11 independent international experts in the fields of epidemiology, virology and public health.
    • Bhutan, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste are countries in the region which have eliminated measles.
    • Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have controlled Rubella.
  • Criteria:
    • A country is verified as having eliminated measles and rubella when there is no evidence of endemic transmission of the respective viruses for over three years in the presence of a well-performing surveillance system.
      • The Maldives reported its last endemic case of measles in 2009 and of rubella in October 2015.
      • Sri Lanka reported the last endemic case of measles in May 2016 and of rubella in March 2017.
  • Steps Taken:
    • All countries in the region introduced two doses of measles-containing vaccine and at least one dose of rubella-containing vaccine in their routine immunisation programme.
    • Since 2017, nearly 500 million additional children have been vaccinated with measles and rubella-containing vaccines.
    • Surveillance for measles and rubella has been strengthened further.
  • The announcement comes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and the success demonstrates the importance of joint efforts.
    • Globally, more than half of all countries reported moderate-to-severe disruptions or a total suspension of vaccination services in March and April.
    • Regionally, both immunisation coverage and surveillance were impacted.
    • However, SEAR countries made coordinated efforts to resume immunisation and surveillance activities.


  • It is a highly contagious viral disease and is a cause of death among young children globally.
  • It is particularly dangerous for children from the economically weaker background, as it attacks malnourished children and those with reduced immunity.
  • It can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea, ear infection and pneumonia.


  • It is also called German Measles.
  • Rubella is a contagious, generally mild viral infection that occurs most often in children and young adults.
  • Rubella infection in pregnant women may cause death or congenital defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) which causes irreversible birth defects.

Measures and Vaccinations

  • The Measles and Rubella Initiative is a global program which aims at eliminating both these diseases.
  • The vaccine for the diseases are provided in the form of measles-rubella (MR), measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) combination.

India and Measles

  • Incidence:
    • Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine since the 1960s, both measles and rubella are major public health concerns in India.
    • More than 1.3 million children acquire measles infection and around 49000 infected children die each year, contributing nearly 36% to the global figures.
    • Rubella infection in pregnant women may cause fetal death or congenital defects. It leads to the development of birth defects in almost 40,000 children annually in the country.
  • Government Initiatives:
    • Measles-Rubella Vaccination
      • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched the MR Vaccination program in 2017.
      • The MR campaign targets around 41 crore children across the country, the largest ever in any campaign.
      • All children aged between 9 months and less than 15 years are given a single shot of MR vaccination irrespective of their previous measles/rubella vaccination status or measles/rubella disease status.
      • MR vaccines are provided free-of-cost across the states.
    • Other Initiatives include Universal Immunization Programme (UIP), Mission Indradhanush and Intensified Mission Indradhanush.

Source: BL

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