Rubella and vaccination

In many developing countries, rubella (also known as German measles) is a common, highly contagious illness. It is caused by a virus which is spread via coughing and sneezing.

A child receiving a vaccination for rubella

Although the effects of rubella are relatively mild โ€“ someone may feel unwell, with a light temperature, sore throat and sometimes a rash โ€“ the effects on the unborn child can be devastating.

A child born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) may have hearing and vision impairments, heart problems, learning disabilities and ongoing health problems. Many of the children we support in East Africa have deafblindness as a result of their mother contracting rubella during pregnancy.

To prevent women who are pregnant from catching rubella from someone else the rubella virus needs to be eradicated from the country as a whole โ€“ and the only way to do this is by vaccination.

A vaccine against rubella has been available since the 1970s and where it is part of the national immunisation strategy rubella is no longer the threat it once was.

Children waiting to have their rubella vaccination

However, for millions of mothers and their children in poorer countries rubella poses an on-going danger. Africa and Asia have the highest number of estimated CRS cases and the lowest uptake of the rubella containing vaccine.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are more than 100,000 children born with birth defects as a result of CRS every year in developing countries.

According to Dr Louis Z. Cooper, a professor at Columbia University and the past President of the American Academy of Paediatrics, approximately 300 children are born every day with a life-changing disability because of rubella infection in pregnancy.

Read Hasifa's story

First published: Tuesday 20 August 2013
Last updated: Wednesday 6 November 2019