Measles/rubella and polio laboratory networks strengthen collaboration in support of immunization goals

WHO

Within the European Region, WHO coordinates a Measles/Rubella Laboratory Network and a Polio Laboratory Network to facilitate high-quality laboratory investigation of suspected cases of these diseases. In addition to early detection of a potential outbreak, data provided by the laboratories are critical to understanding the impact of a country’s vaccination programme on the prevalence and spread of disease.

An annual meeting of the European laboratory networks for measles/rubella and polio was organized by WHO/Europe in Hammamet, Tunisia on 8-12 September 2014.

Virologists from Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan and Ukraine gathered together to conduct a joint review of the networks’ performance in 2013–2014 and to define future priorities. The meeting in Hammamet provided an excellent opportunity to further strengthen collaboration with sister networks in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region. The networks continue to work closely as part of the WHO response to recent polio and measles outbreaks in the Middle East.

Challenges: maintaining quality and stepping up surveillance

All of the European networks’ laboratories passed the annual WHO external quality assurance testing in the past year and were fully accredited. While both networks continue to maintain a high standard of work, challenges related to insufficient staff and government funding present a real threat to their performance.

More should be done by the national governments in the respective countries and throughout the Region to ensure uninterrupted work of this essential component of the public health system. In the context of the measles and rubella elimination target for the European Region, Member States are expected to also scale up case-based surveillance and optimize the linkage between epidemiological and laboratory data.