DRC: Racing against time to stem measles epidemic

20 Dec 2012
Press release

PRESS RELEASE: A measles epidemic is spreading throughout Orientale Province, DRC. MSF has treated more than 12,700 patients and vaccinated more than 226,000.

A measles epidemic is spreading throughout Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Since early October, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has treated more than 12,700 patients and vaccinated more than 226,000 in several areas affected by the illness.

MSF is continuing to vaccinate, but given the breadth of the epidemic the medical humanitarian organisation is in a race against time to provide free medical care and reduce mortality.

Children and measles

“This measles epidemic follows a sharp and particularly deadly increase in malaria among young children this year, “says Dr Narcisse Wega, MSF emergency coordinator.

“Here, too, the disease is spreading rapidly in the province and affects primarily children under five years of age. We are facing a continuing series of epidemics that has overwhelmed the health system. The health authorities are experiencing staff shortages and frequent stock-outs of medicine and cannot address this epidemic on their own.”

Medical teams

Against the backdrop of this “health care desert,” on 5th October MSF began sending medical teams to the Yambuku, Yalibombo, Yaleko and Yahuma health zones.

The teams have treated 10,764 measles patients and vaccinated more than 226,080 children between the ages of six months and 15 years. More than 76,460 children remain to be vaccinated in Yahuma.

In November, MSF deployed additional teams to the Buta and Ganga-Dingila health zones, where more than 2,000 patients have already been treated.

Mass vaccinations

Mass vaccination campaigns began on 17th December and will continue in January, targeting approximately 130,000 children between six months and 15 years. The organisation is also working in Niapu, in the Poko health zone, and is launching activities in Titulé.

With some 20 health zones affected by measles in Orientale Province, MSF faces huge challenges - primarily logistical - in reaching the most isolated communities and making treatment available as quickly as possible.

Needs are huge

“We are mobilising all the resources at our disposal to expand our activities into the affected areas, but the province and the needs are huge and we may soon reach the limits of our capacities,” Dr Wega notes. “We can’t deal with this province-wide epidemic alone.”

Measles is an extremely contagious illness. If not treated in time, it may result in serious medical complications and the death of between one percent and 15 percent of the children affected.

For more information on MSF's work in the DRC, visit our Focus Page