Health in Africa

In the throes of Ebola, now, measles kills more than 4,000 in the Congo

Paucity of funds, armed conflicts adversely affecting health response: WHO

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 24 November 2019
A child being vaccinated against measles in the DRC. Photo: Flickr__

Around 4,723 people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in what is being described as one of the worst outbreaks of measles in history. The country is already in the throes of an Ebola virus epidemic.

According to the latest update issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), though the case fatality rate is only two per cent, as many as 2,33,327 registered cases of measles have surfaced in the DRC from January 1-October 27, 2019. 

Since a WHO report on September 15, 2019, as many as 53,860 additional suspected cases and 1,164 additional deaths — both attributed to measles — have been reported, with 42 more health zones declared in epidemic phase.

All 26 provinces of the DRC are reeling under the measles epidemic.

What led to such a deadly outbreak is yet to be known. “The systematic investigation of new cases, and sample collection and shipment to the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa are ongoing in the affected health zones,” the WHO has said.

Since the week ending October 27, 2019, as many as 7,421 measles cases, including 146 deaths, were reported across the DRC, with no newly-affected health zone, the WHO updates said.

Stating that some affected health zones remain inaccessible to the health workers due to ongoing armed conflicts, especially the eastern part of the country, the response of healthcare workers could not be fully effective.

Besides, the WHO has lamented that the paucity of funds for the vaccination campaigns is also hurting the strategy to control the outbreak.

“The follow-up measles vaccination campaign that started on October 30, 2019, in seven provinces, namely Lomami, Tanganyika, Sankuru, Kasai, Ituri, North-Ubangi and Tshopo is ongoing. Preliminary results of the post-campaign evaluation survey revealed that, of the targeted 4,493,694 children aged 6 to 59 months, 2,134,516 (47.5 per cent) have been vaccinated.”

More than half the children, thus, remain unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, around 2,195 people have died due to the Ebola virus, and 3,292 cases registered in the DRC since August last year. The case fatality rate due to Ebola virus has been reported to be 66.80 per cent in the country.

“The vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continued in the Krisimbi Health Zone, with 147 people vaccinated on November 16, 2019, bringing the cumulative total of people vaccinated with this vaccine to 240 since its introduction on November 14, 2019,” the WHO said.

The health body has said that though the number of Ebola cases have started declining, the number of new confirmed case weekly, continues to show transmission in Beni, Mabalako and Mandima Health Zones.

“The ongoing chains of transmission appear to be related to difficulty with contact follow up, shown by sub-optimal contact tracing percentages and continuing detection of new cases among community deaths. These issues need to be addressed urgently in order to finally bring the outbreak to a close.”

Monkeypox is also wreaking havoc in the DRC, having made 4,374 people ill since January 1 this year.

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