Modelling the incidence of congenital rubella syndrome in developing countries

F T Cutts, E Vynnycky
International Journal of Epidemiology 1999, 28 (6): 1176-84

BACKGROUND: As of 1997, less than one-third of developing countries included rubella vaccine in their national immunization programme. In countries that have achieved high coverage of measles vaccine, an ideal opportunity exists to include control of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) in enhanced measles control activities. Data on the burden of congenital rubella syndrome are important to guide rubella vaccination policies.

METHODS: We reviewed the literature to identify studies of rubella antibody prevalence in developing countries that were conducted on populations with no major selection bias, prior to wide-scale rubella vaccination in the country. We used a simple catalytic model to describe the age-specific prevalence of susceptibility to rubella virus infection in given populations. Estimates of the incidence of infection among pregnant women were calculated using expressions for the average prevalence of susceptibility to infection and the incidence of infection during gestation. To estimate the number of cases of CRS, we assumed an overall risk of 65% after infection in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and zero risk thereafter. These estimates were derived for each country for which data were available, then for each World Health Organization region, excluding Europe.

RESULTS: The estimated mean incidence of CRS per 100,000 live births was lowest in the Eastern Mediterranean region (77.4, range 0-212) and highest in the Americas (175, range 0-598). The mean of the estimates of the total number of cases of CRS in developing countries in 1996 was approximately 110,000. The range was, however, very wide, from as few as 14,000 to as many as 308,000 cases.

CONCLUSIONS: Congenital rubella syndrome is an under-recognized public health problem in many developing countries. There is an urgent need for collection of appropriate data to estimate the cost-effectiveness of a potential global rubella control programme.

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