The measles epidemic in Congo's Katanga province must be halted in fewer than 60 days to prevent a major health crisis, according to Doctors Without Borders.
The outbreak has claimed over 320 lives and impacted an estimated 30,000 people.
“Vaccination against measles and other diseases is normally part of the routine immunization performed in Congolese health centers. Catch-up campaigns to raise the proportion of vaccinated children are also organized every year,” Doctors Without Borders spokesperson Tim Shenk said. “But many children seem to be missing out.”
Measles is a very infectious disease that causes complications like diarrhea and dehydration. While the mortality rate is fairly low in developed countries, in places with poor health care systems the mortality rate can rise as high as 20 percent.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs declared in August that the epidemic is “only worsening," and in response the U.N. released $2.4 million to help the Congolese government and non-governmental organizations handle the spread of the disease.
Following an outbreak in 2012, Doctors Without Borders reported giving over 440,000 vaccinations to prevent measles’ spread in the Congo.
“An epidemic of this magnitude should not occur if the reported immunization coverage rates against measles in Katanga are accurate," Michel Janssens, Doctors Without Borders' medical coordinator on site, said.
The main issue with vaccinations is the geography of Katanga, which makes transporting a vaccine that must be kept cold to a forest village exceedingly difficult.
“The vaccine against measles is very effective but it is not well-suited to this type of environment," Aurore Taconet, Doctors Without Borders vaccination referent in Paris, said. "It requires a thorough cold chain that is difficult to maintain in such conditions and a second booster dose at least one month after the first. Such constraints mean huge needs in terms of equipment and human resources, and therefore a significant cost.”
The poor living conditions of the region and the exposure to other illnesses like tuberculosis further aggravates the measles outbreak.