Maldives and Sri Lanka were on Wednesday verified for having eliminated rubella, making them the first two countries in WHO South-East Asia Region to achieve measles and rubella elimination ahead of the 2023 target.

“Protecting all children against these killer and debilitating diseases is an important step in our endeavour to achieve healthier population and health for all,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, congratulating the Maldives and Sri Lanka on their achievement.

The announcement was made after the fifth meeting of the South-East Asia Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination, held virtually. The Commission comprises of 11 independent international experts in the fields of epidemiology, virology and public health. A country is verified as having eliminated measles and rubella when there is no evidence of endemic transmission of the measles and rubella viruses for over three years in the presence of a well-performing surveillance system.

The Maldives reported last endemic case of measles in 2009 and of rubella in October 2015, while Sri Lanka reported last endemic case of measles in May 2016 and of rubella in March 2017.

Coming at a time when the entire world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, this success is encouraging and demonstrates the importance of joint efforts, Dr Khetrapal Singh said, lauding the Ministries of Health, health workforce, partners, and most importantly the communities, who together contributed to this public health achievement.

In a global survey, more than half of all countries reported moderate-to-severe disruptions or a total suspension of vaccination services in March and April. Preliminary information from the Region suggests both immunization coverage and surveillance have been impacted. However, countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region have been making concerted efforts to resume immunization and surveillance activities and plug gaps that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region had in September last year set 2023 as the target for elimination of measles and rubella, revising the goal of the flagship programme that since 2014 had focused on measles elimination and rubella control.

Bhutan, DPR Korea and Timor-Leste are other countries in the Region who have eliminated measles.