… aims to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B next

Jigmi Wangdi

Bhutan has been successful in eliminating Rubella after almost two decades of battling the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) South-East Asia Region announced on July 21 that Bhutan and Timor-Leste have eliminated rubella.

Rubella is a highly contagious disease that causes serious illness and irreversible birth defects in newborns of women infected during pregnancy, which is preventable through vaccination.

To commemorate this milestone in Bhutan’s healthcare sector, a small ceremony was held at the Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck Mother and Child Hospital.

Bhutan and Timor-Leste eliminated measles in 2017 and 2018, respectively

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo accompanied by officials from the health sector and the Acting WHO Representative in Bhutan Dr BB Rewari attended the event.

Lyonpo said that Bhutan first had the rubella outbreak around 2003 and the vaccine rollout took place in 2006. “This is a great success for the country. Now we must look towards the future to also eliminate other diseases such as HIV/AIDs transmission from mother to child.”

Dr BB Rewari said that there are three main things in the pipeline for WHO and Bhutan.

“HPV vaccination coverage for cervical cancer prevention in Bhutan is very high.

It’s going to the tune of 93 percent to 94 percent. So, we’ll work towards the elimination of the disease. Second is the elimination of malaria,” he said.

He added that WHO is also focusing on the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B. “99 percent of pregnant women undergo testing for these diseases and the prevalence is very low so we are thinking that we should have interventions to prevent this.”

Bhutan and Timor-Leste eliminated measles in 2017 and 2018 respectively, and now join the Maldives and Sri Lanka to achieve elimination of measles and rubella by 2023, a flagship priority programme of WHO South-East Asia Region.

According to the WHO, UNICEF estimates that the coverage with the first dose of a measles-rubella-containing vaccine in the South-East Asia Region has improved from 86 percent in 2021 to 92 percent in 2022 (a 6 percent increase), while coverage of the second dose of the vaccine has jumped from 78 percent in 2021 to 85 percent in 2022 (a 7 percent point increase).

Six countries in the Region – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand – have achieved a coverage of 95 percent or more during 2022, while Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka – have achieved more than 95 percent coverage with the second dose as well.