When, and how, should we introduce a combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine into the national childhood expanded immunization programme in South Africa?
This article briefly reviews the history and epidemiology of measles, mumps and rubella disease and the case for introducing combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine into the national childhood immunization schedule in South Africa. Despite adopting the World Health Organization's Measles Elimination strategy in 1996 and achieving a significant decrease the incidence of measles, added effort is needed in South and southern Africa to reach the goal to eliminate endogenous spread measles. Mumps is still common disease of childhood and while there are few sequelae, even the rare complications are important in large populations. Congenital rubella syndrome is seldom reported, but it is estimated that of the million or so children born every year in South Africa over 600 infants are affected to some degree by rubella infection. The naturally acquired immunity to rubella in women of childbearing age in South Africa has been estimated at over 90%, so that introducing a rubella containing vaccine in childhood may paradoxically increase the proportion of girls reaching puberty still susceptible to rubella. The elimination of endogenous measles and rubella is being achieved in many countries in South America, and despite the recent measles epidemic, must still be seriously considered for South and southern Africa. Current constraints and potential steps needed to reach the goal in South Africa are discussed.