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New measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: MSF helps vaccinate and treat young children

New measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: MSF helps vaccinate and treat young children

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the number of measles cases is currently increasing again in many provinces of the country. Although measles is easily preventable through vaccination, the infection remains very serious and even fatal, especially in children under the age of five. To protect them, our teams are now conducting emergency vaccination campaigns.

Measles outbreaks regularly occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With each new outbreak, our teams in the country try to help with vaccination campaigns. The campaign in the photo dates back to March of last year in the province of Bas-Uélé. Young Banienikwa Dieu Merci is receiving his first vaccination here. © Bakum Pajula, 2021

Measles epidemics in almost all parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

More than 68,500 suspected measles cases and 1,002 deaths were reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from January to mid-June 2022, according to the Congolese Ministry of Health. This is more than the total number of cases in the whole of 2021. 114 sanitary-epidemiological zones have been declared in 24 of the country’s 26 provinces.

Vaccination rate is not high enough

The regular outbreak of measles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is largely due to insufficient vaccination coverage. Among other things, long distances to health centers and lack of funds for the trip there prevent many parents from vaccinating their children. Obtaining vaccines in remote areas and maintaining the cold chain to ensure proper storage are also major logistical challenges. Other factors include the nurses’ strike from August 2021 to February 2022, which resulted in the suspension of routine immunization activities at many health centers. Covid-19 has also restricted travel and made some people afraid to go to health facilities and get vaccinated.

MSF emergency teams help with vaccinations and treatment

MSF is deploying emergency teams again to support the Ministry of Health. Our teams are particularly active when a rapid increase in the number of cases is reported in an area where local response capacity is limited or difficult to reach. Since the beginning of the year, these teams have vaccinated more than 700,000 children against measles in 10 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to vaccination, they also take care of the treatment of sick children.

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The vaccination rate should be increased

In order to prevent the spread of measles, vaccination should be intensified and free treatment of measles cases should be introduced in areas that have been classified as endemic by the authorities. But we also need to prevent new epidemics from emerging by increasing vaccination rates. This means expediting the introduction of the second dose of the measles vaccine recommended by the authorities and the schedule for additional mass vaccination campaigns. One challenge is to ensure that the routine immunization effort is maintained.