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On the third day of the 68th session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, it was announced that two countries in the Region—New Zealand and the Republic of Korea—have just become the first to be confirmed as having eliminated the diseases, measles and rubella.

Image/Jim Goodson, M.P.H.
Image/Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

When countries have strong immunization programs—that use a single vaccine to protect against measles and rubella, effective systems to detect both diseases, and laboratories that can test for both and confirm the diagnosis—they can work towards eliminating measles and rubella at the same time, and New Zealand and South Korea prove that it can be done.

Both countries recognize; however, that they must remain vigilant and continue improving vaccination rates so that any imported cases of these diseases don’t spread amongst unimmunized people.

Measles and rubella are viruses that spread easily among people who are not immunized, and they share common symptoms: fever and rash. Measles can be deadly, especially among children who are malnourished. Rubella infection is particularly serious for pregnant women, who can suffer miscarriage or whose babies can have birth defects including blindness, deafness and heart disease.