Closing in on measles and rubella in Europe

Countries in the WHO European Region continue to gain ground in efforts to achieve national – and together regional – elimination of measles and rubella. The European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC) concludes in its annual meeting report, released today, that 37 of the 53 Member States in the Region (70%) have interrupted endemic measles transmission as of the end of 2015, and 35 of them (66%) have also interrupted endemic rubella transmission. Of these countries, 27 sustained interruption for at least 36 months and are therefore considered to have eliminated one or both of the diseases. These conclusions indicate that measles is endemic in four fewer countries and rubella is endemic in two fewer countries than in the previous year. Progress is also reflected in a lower number of measles and rubella cases reported through routine surveillance in the Region in 2016 than in previous years.

“It is encouraging to see the combined efforts of WHO and its Member States reflected in steady progress towards eliminating measles and rubella,” said Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Emergencies and Communication Diseases Division of the WHO Regional Office for Europe. “But we cannot be satisfied until the whole Region has crossed the line. With an effective and safe vaccine readily available, not one person need suffer the consequences of measles or rubella infection; yet we witnessed several outbreaks and even resulting deaths in this Region in 2015 and in 2016. More can and must be done to ensure that everyone in the Region is protected from these dreaded diseases.”

Annual assessment and conclusions

The independent RVC assesses progress towards elimination of measles and rubella by reviewing epidemiological and laboratory surveillance data submitted by each country’s national verification committee (NVC), and met for the fifth time in October 2016 to review the NVCs’ reports for 2015. In its meeting report, the RVC confirms interruption where this has been documented and makes observations and recommendations to help more challenged countries catch up.

It also identifies gaps in surveillance, coverage and annual reporting, and stresses the need for sufficient laboratory data to distinguish between imported and endemic viruses and to detect and document chains of transmission. Genotyping and lineage information will become increasingly important as more countries achieve interruption and the focus moves towards sustaining high-quality surveillance with the detection, classification and documentation of every case.

Towards a European Region free of vaccine-preventable diseases

Eliminating measles and rubella is a core goal of the European Vaccine Action Plan 2015–2020 and an important indicator of global success in improving health and reducing inequalities (Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 10, respectively). The RVC and WHO are committed to the verification process and will continue to provide national public health authorities throughout the Region with political, technical and advocacy support until regional measles and rubella elimination has been achieved.