India has launched one of the world’s largest vaccination campaign against measles, a major childhood killer disease, and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), responsible for irreversible birth defects.
The campaign launched last Tuesday to vaccinate more than 35 million children in the age group of nine months to 15 years with MR (measles and rubella) vaccine, once again demonstrates India’s commitment to improve health and well-being of its people by protecting children against vaccine preventable diseases.
The first phase of the campaign is significant as it is expected to accelerate the country’s efforts to eliminate measles which affects an estimated 2.5 million children every year, killing nearly 49,000 of them. The campaign also marks the introduction of rubella vaccine in India’s childhood immunization program to address CRS which causes birth defects such as irreversible deafness and blindness in nearly 40 000 children every year.
India has made important efforts and gains against measles in recent years. Measles deaths have declined by 51% from an estimated 100,000 in the year 2000 to 49,000 in 2015. This has been possible by significantly increasing the reach of the first dose of measles vaccine, given at the age of nine months under routine immunization program, from 56% in 2000 to 87% in 2015. In 2010 India introduced the second dose of measles-containing vaccine in routine immunization program to close the immunity gap and accelerate measles elimination. Nearly 118 million children aged nine months to 10 years were vaccinated during mass measles vaccination campaigns between 2010 and 2013 in select states of India.
The campaign, the first in the series to cover a total of 410 million children across the country over the next 2 years, is a truly remarkable, world-beating effort. Apart from improving the life-chances of millions of children in India, the campaign is expected to have a substantial effect on global measles mortality and rubella control target as India accounts for 37% of global measles deaths.
For the MR campaign to be effective, it is important that throughout its duration, and in routine immunization thereafter, no child is left behind.
Simultaneously, India continues to further strengthen surveillance for measles and rubella, an important learning from India’s polio eradication program that helped to identify infected and vulnerable areas and populations and enabled the program adopt appropriate strategies to eradicate the disease.
India has already beaten smallpox, polio, maternal and neonatal tetanus and, very recently, yaws. Further gains in the battle against measles will help achieve a number of other public health priorities.