Like other European countries, Belgium has committed to eliminate measles and congenital rubella. Both diseases can have severe consequences. Luckily, there is a very effective vaccine available. The Committee for the Elimination of Measles and Rubella in Belgium is setting up an action plan to achieve the elimination goal and is monitoring its progress. A report is submitted each year to the World Health Organisation.
The role of the Committee
The Committee is responsible for setting up the ‘Action plan for the Elimination of Measles and Rubella in Belgium’ which is submitted to the Interministerial Conference on Public Health. The Committee then also monitors whether the suggested activities are being carried out correctly and what progress is being made to achieve the goals. The annual report is submitted to the Interministerial Conference on Public Health. A report is also provided to the World Health Organisation.
Composition of the Committee
Both the regional and federal administrations as well as independent experts (general practitioners, paediatricians, vaccinologists, public health experts, etc.) are represented in the Committee. The members meet at least once a year.
The experts on the Committee are selected based on their scientific expertise and professional experience. All members must submit a declaration of interests. In the event of a conflict of interests, the Committee Secretariat can decide to exclude the expert from the meeting.
Government authorities involved in the elimination of measles and rubella
The diagnosis of measles and rubellais supported on the one hand by the National Reference Centre for Measles, Mumps and Rubella and on the other hand by the National Reference Centre for congenital infections. They can conduct advanced laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis. The NRC for Measles, Mumps and Rubella also charts which genotypes of the measles virus are circulating.
Sciensano’s Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases department provides the epidemiological monitoring. They compile all the data on measles and rubella and provide international reports. Sciensano also provides the scientific secretariat for the Committee.
The Committee plays an important role in the coordination of the many parties that are involved in the elimination of measles and rubella. Since the World Health Assembly approved the elimination goal, the regional office of WHO Europe monitors progress in the European region and offers support where necessary. The federal authorities are responsible for foreign affairs and public health and therefore also have joint authority over Belgian’s international commitments in the context of the elimination goals. The vaccination calendar is set based on scientific advice from the Belgian Superior Health Council. In Belgium, preventative healthcare (including contact tracing) and vaccination policy are the responsibility of the federated entities (regions and communities). For the Flemish Community Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid (The Care and Health Agency) is the main player. Basic and booster vaccinations are provided through Kind & Gezin (Child and Family), the CLBs (Student Guidance Centres) and the free vaccines at GPs’ surgeries.
If a case of measles occurs, it must be reported to the authorities. In Flanders, AZG then takes care of contact tracing; in Brussels that is done by the Joint Community Commission (COCOM). In the French and German Communities the responsibilities are shared between several actors: Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance (Office of Birth and Childhood) provides the basic vaccination for children, young people and pregnant women in French-speaking Belgium, Agence pour une Vie de Qualité (Agency for Quality of Life) provides contact tracing in the event of outbreaks and Kaleido-Ostbelgien (Kaleido-East Belgium) provides basic vaccinations in German-speaking Belgium.