Countries of the Americas to strengthen activities for preventing the reintroduction of these eliminated diseases in the Hemisphere.

Washington D.C., 28 November 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — In order to keep the Americas free of measles, rubella, and congenital rubella syndrome, the countries of the Region agreed on an emergency plan of action to prevent the reintroduction of these diseases, which have already been eliminated in the Americas.

"The Region continues to be at risk, since imported cases from other regions of the world can lead to outbreaks and pose a risk to maintaining the elimination of these diseases," said Gina Tambini, Manager of Family and Community Health at the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).

The emergency plan of action, approved by the Region's ministers of health during the 28th Pan American Sanitary Conference of PAHO/WHO, held in late September in Washington, D.C., calls on the Member States to strengthen active surveillance of these diseases, ensure timely outbreak response measures for imported viruses, and maintain immunization coverage of 95% or more.

In the next few years, the Region of the Americas will host a series of international events, such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. This raises an alert about the possibility of infected individuals entering the country from other regions, which could lead to outbreaks, with the consequent health and financial costs (up to US $10,000 per case).

Delegates from the Member States of PAHO/WHO affirmed their support for the global elimination of these diseases and requested the Organization to mobilize resources to maintain the Region's achievements, suggesting that as long as there is no global elimination goal, the risk of the reintroduction of the viruses in the Americas will remain.In November 2002, the Region eliminated measles through immunization coverage. In 2011, however, 171 outbreaks caused by imported measles cases were documented, resulting in persistent transmission of the virus in at least three countries (Canada, Ecuador, and Brazil). These imported measles outbreaks put the Region's achievements at risk.

Furthermore, from 1998 to 2006, confirmed cases of rubella plummeted by 98%, from 135,947 to 3,005. In 2007, however, the Americas experienced a resurgence of cases due to importations of the virus into countries whose mass vaccination campaigns had initially targeted only females. ??As a result of the outbreaks in three countries, confirmed cases of rubella soared from 3,005 in 2006 to 13,187 in 2007, resulting in 27 reported cases of congenital rubella syndrome between 2008 and 2009.

Countries that had completed campaigns targeting adolescents and adults, both male and female, did not report any endemic cases of rubella. The last such case was reported in February 2009. In 2011, seven cases of import-associated rubella were reported. No cases of congenital rubella syndrome were reported in 2010 or 2011. Under the emergency plan of action, PAHO/WHO will continue providing technical assistance to the countries of the Region to strengthen their capacity within the framework of routine vaccination, through strategies focused on improving surveillance and reporting and increasing immunization coverage among vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations.

PAHO, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, is the world's oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries in the Hemisphere to improve the health and quality of life of the peoples of the Americas and serves as the WHO Regional Office for the Americas.