THE Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) is fighting what could described as the deadliest measles outbreak, the worst since the 2011/2012 outbreak.
By Michael Gwarisa
The outbreak comes in the midst of an equally deadly health crisis in the form of Ebola which has claimed hundreds of lives since last year.
Karel Janssens, Head of Mission of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the DRC said there was need to scale up assistance efforts in affected regions.
While a rapid and adapted response is critical to limiting the impact of measles on the communities, on the ground we note the absence of actors and a flagrant lack of much-needed assistance.”
The organisation has been fighting the outbreak alongside local teams of the Ministry of Health through its regular projects and emergency interventions in 13 provinces of the country. Since the beginning of the year, MSF has vaccinated 474 863 children between 6 and 59 months old, and provided medical care for 27 439 patients.
Most recently, MSF has been sending teams to new areas, such as the province of Mai-Ndombe, in the west of the DRC. There, MSF has deployed an emergency team to limit the expansion of the epidemic in the health zones along the Kasai River: Kwamouth, Bolobo and Nioki. Set up to be mobile and agile, the team moves its base continuously.
This allows it to adapt the response to the needs identified on the ground and to reach people in remote areas where access to health care remains extremely challenging.
“Just to bring vaccines to places where children need to be vaccinated is a huge task. We have to keep the vaccines within strict temperature limits, which means setting up a ‘cold chain’. This requires refrigerators, generators, fuel and fast transportation, as well as a maintenance system. Many health zones do not receive any support from other organisations, despite evident needs,” explains Pierre Van Heddegem, Field Coordinator of MSF’s measles emergency team.
Unless there is a massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, this outbreak could get even worse.
“Two months after the official declaration and few weeks before the start of the school year, the measles epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, since July the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces. If we want to contain the outbreak, it is imperative to strengthen the response, and to do it immediately,” concludes Karel Janssens.