In 2000, before the Measles & Rubella Initiative formed, more than 535,000 children worldwide died from measles each year.
Measles is a highly-contagious virus, spread by contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. When one person has measles, 90 percent of the people they come into close contact with will become infected, if they are not already immune. Being immune means someone has been vaccinated or has previously contracted the disease. The symptoms include a high fever, severe skin rash and cough.
Measles does not cause death directly, but it weakens the immune system and opens the door to secondary health problems, such as pneumonia, blindness, diarrhea, and encephalitis. Approximately 30 percent of reported measles cases have one or more complications. These debilitating effects are most common in children under five and adults over twenty. Poor children are more likely to be malnourished and have severe complications from measles. Even if a child recovers, he or she can be left with permanent disabilities.
While significant progress has been made thanks to the Measles & Rubella Initiative and its supporters, measles still kills an estimated 158,000 each year – mostly children less than five years of age. That means approximately 430 die from measles-related complications each day. Yet measles can be completed prevented with two doses of a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine.
Rubella is another disease the Measles & Rubella Initiative is now addressing. Rubella is generally a mild disease but can have serious consequences for pregnant women and their children. If infected with rubella in the first trimester women have a very high risk of giving birth to a child with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS). CRS often presents in multiple birth defects including as heart problems, deafness and blindness. An estimated 110,000 children are born with CRS each year. The lifelong complications and disabilities can have an immeasurable emotional, social and financial cost for families. Like measles, rubella can be prevented with a safe, effective and inexpensive vaccine. This can be delivered as a rubella vaccine alone, or combined with measles vaccine (MR) or with measles and mumps vaccines (MMR).
In many developing countries, parents do not have access to immunization services that could protect their children from this fate. Factors such as poverty, poor health systems and a lack of information can make it difficult for families to secure preventative vaccinations for each of their children.
The risk also remains in developed nations. Although measles was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 2002 and endemic rubella has not been detected in the Americas since 2009, outbreaks can occur when unvaccinated residents are exposed to infected people, mostly through international travel.
Measles and rubella and CRS, however, are entirely preventable. Learn more about measles and rubella and contribute to the solution.