This week Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, announced that Rubella has been eradicated in the Americas, the first region in the world to accomplish this feat.
Rubella is a contagious viral disease that can cause multiple birth defects as well as fetal death when contracted by women during pregnancy.
According to an article in the New York Times, “Public health authorities had to review 165 million records and do 1.3 million checks to see if any communities had rubella cases. All recent cases had to be genetically tested at the C.D.C. to confirm that they were caused by known imported strains of the virus, not by quietly circulating domestic ones.”
Although PAHO formally launched the campaign to eliminate Rubella in 2003, the English-speaking Caribbean’s push towards eradication began several years earlier in 1997.
Led by Dr. Karen Lewis-Bell, a Jamaica-based Pan American Health Organization adviser, the campaign began with a pilot program in the Bahamas, targeting adolescents and adults. Prior to this, Rubella vaccination campaigns had focused on pre-teen girls because they were seen as highest risk.
During the mass rubella vaccination campaigns in the Caribbean, “men were told that the rubella component would protect their unborn children, and that the mumps component would prevent mumps complications, which in post-pubescent men include painful swollen testicles and sterility.” According to Dr. Lewis-Bell, this message worked. Men lined up to get the vaccine, and brought along their wives and girlfriends. This example illustrates the power of effective culturally-appropriate communication within of vaccination campaigns.
The announcement was made in conjunction with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Unicef and the United Nations Foundation.