Measles continues to silently kill large numbers of mostly children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad.
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Overshadowed by the Ebola outbreak in the east of the country, the measles response in DRC has been neglected from the start. It took months before the epidemic was finally declared in June 2019, while the vaccination campaigns organised by authorities were marked by delays, coordination issues and a lack of supporting partners, many of whom were focused on the response to Ebola. A supplementary vaccination campaign, intended to 'mop up’ those children who had been missed, was repeatedly postponed, before finally taking place in late 2019.
All of these factors contributed to the disease’s heavy toll in DRC, making it the country’s deadliest measles epidemic recorded to date and the largest in the world today.
“Today, the overall number of cases may have reduced, but the epidemic is far from over,” says Emmanuel Lampaert, MSF operations coordinator in DRC. “Some areas are even reporting increases and there are about 100 health zones where action is urgently needed.”
“Since January, more than 50,000 cases and 600 deaths have already been officially notified,” Lampaert continues. “But many zones with increasing numbers of cases and deaths are not included in the latest national measles response plan.”
From Haut-Uélé to Kongo Central, from North Ubangi to South Kivu, MSF teams have already been deployed in a dozen provinces across DRC in 2020; this year they have already vaccinated more than 260,000 children against measles, while caring for more than 17,500 that already had the disease. Last year, MSF vaccinated 816,000 children against measles and cared for more than 50,000 patients with the disease.
As in many remote places in DRC, local people know all too well the toll taken by ’silent killers’ such as measles, malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
“The needs here are huge but the supply of medicines to health centres is problematic,” says Gédéon Mushadi, the health zone’s chief doctor. “The few medicines available in the health facilities do not cover the needs.” ■