The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Timor-Leste, two South-East-Asian nations have achieved the commendable target, set by the World Health Organization (WHO), of eliminating measles. In addition, six South-Asian countries have been certified for controlling rubella and congenital rubella syndrome, which is two years ahead of the assigned target year 2020.

In 2014, WHO South-East Asia announced the elimination of measles and control of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome by 2020 as a flagship programme. Measles is a major childhood killer disease. Rubella and congenital rubella syndrome — also known as German measles — are also gravely serious diseases that can lead to serious and irreversible birth defects.

Elimination of measles is achieved when a country interrupts transmission of indigenous virus for over three years. Rubella control is achieved when number of rubella cases come down by 95% as compared to 2008 figures.

Last year, Bhutan and Maldives became the first two countries in the South-Eastern region of Asia to eliminate measles. Now, today’s announcement sets the number to four. Four out of the 11 member countries of WHO South-East Asia have now eliminated measles. Also, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste have successfully managed to control rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. Today’s announcement sets Bhutan, Maldives and Timor-Leste as the first three countries in South-East Asia to achieve not only the successful elimination of measles but also the control of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome.

“These achievements demonstrate the commitment and resolve of countries in the Region towards health of women and children, and for universal health coverage”, says Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director WHO South-East Asia. Working towards the goal, efforts are being made to strengthen vaccination services for measles and rubella, enhance surveillance, build laboratory networks, and leverage reach and support of existing networks such as of the polio eradication programme.

The Regional Verification Commission, an independent body of experts, met in Delhi from July 31 to August 2 for an in-depth review of the data and reports provided by the national verification committees of the respective nations. The Commission verified that both DPR Korea and Timor-Leste have interrupted transmission of indigenous measles for more than three years.

The commission acknowledged that tremendous progress has been made by all mmember countries in the region over the past four years. A huge momentum has been created in the Region and activities have been accelerated to move towards the achievement of these goals, it observed.

“We are moving towards a brighter and healthier future for all – one that is free of vaccine preventable diseases and the unnecessary death and suffering they cause,” says Dr Singh. However, we need to further intensify our efforts, she adds. “Measles moves fast, we need to move faster to protect our children against its severe consequences.”