TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

Congo sees progress against deadly measles epidemic

The Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC) Ministry of Public Health recently reported that the measles epidemic has started to decline, but there are still serious risks for the disease’s transmission.

There were 39,619 measles cases with 474 deaths confirmed as of Nov. 20. All of these cases and deaths occurred in the Katanga region.

"[Though] the epidemic of measles is now considered to be declining in Katanga, we remain very worried about the persistence of measles cases in most other provinces of DRC and, consequently, the risk of new outbreaks," Caroline Voûte, coordinator of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) response to the epidemic, said. "DRC has experienced continuous epidemics since 2010. Enormous human and financial resources are repeatedly brought to bear to combat measles, a largely preventable disease, through vaccination.”

Over 77 percent of the children who contracted the disease were between the ages of 1 and 5. Approximately 88 percent of the children who had measles and died from the disease were between the ages of 1 and 5. Health experts expect that these figures are actually an underestimation of the true statistics. 

“This new health crisis again calls into question the effectiveness of previous vaccination campaigns,” Voûte said. “It is urgent to learn from this epidemic and take the necessary steps to improve routine immunization to prevent a new outbreak in the coming years. As a reminder, in 2011, Katanga had already faced one of the largest outbreaks of measles. MSF then vaccinated 2.1 million children.

"Officially, at the end of November, more than 39,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths were reported in Katanga since the beginning of 2015, but these figures are largely underestimated, as retrospective mortality surveys in some areas have already shown. Indeed, in the most remote and economically depressed parts of this immense territory, the health landscape looks like a desert. Especially in rural areas, the health system has lost its legitimacy and credibility.”

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