- About Us
- Our Work
- Work With MSF
- Public Events
- Press Room
MSF Responds to Meningitis Epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo
February 16, 2007
In the coming days, a 52-person team will vaccinate everyone from 2 to 30 years of age in the Adi health zone, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Dr. Alena Koscalova has been one of the medical coordinators for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the DRC for more than two years. She is currently in charge of the meningitis vaccination campaign and answers our questions about the effort.
MSF wasn't working in this health region, so what led you to send an evaluation team?
We had been on alert since the second week of January; that is, since the epidemic was declared in Uganda. The lead doctor for the Adi health region, which borders the areas affected by the meningitis epidemic in Uganda and southern Sudan, then asked us to step in. On January 23, an evaluation team left to assess needs and confirm the epidemic.
That confirmation was made on January 24. Meningitis cases had doubled in three weeks and of 12 tests performed, two were positive for type A meningococcal meningitis. The other tests were negative, probably because the patients had been taking antibiotics for more than 24 hours. All 12 patients' samples were cultured, but the results were negative for the same reason.
What is MSF doing in the Adi health region?
The evaluation team that I was part of briefed the medical staff in the Adi health region regarding patient treatment and we made a medicine donation to the general hospital, in advance of the arrival of a new MSF team.
This three-person team (doctor, nurse, and logistician) arrived on January 30 to treat patients, strengthen epidemiological monitoring and identify cases. Since the team arrived, it has treated 184 patients. Twenty people have died in the region. The team also set up the vaccination campaign. Our team is working with staff from the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and the nongovernmental organization, Maltezer, which is focusing on community outreach and education.
The WHO ordered vaccines on February 1, which were delivered to Kinshasa on February 8. Our teams have completed field preparations. Vaccination sites have been identified and health authorities have been involved in the planning process. Vaccinators were selected and trained on February 11. We are now waiting for the vaccine, which is late in arriving. We will begin the vaccinations as soon as it arrives.
The Adi health region includes more than 140,000 residents and 18 health areas. The vaccinations should be finished in seven days. The Ariwara and Aru health regions are on alert and vaccinations will depend on the development of meningitis cases in the coming days.
Is this the same epidemic currently underway in southern Sudan?
This epidemic began in southern Sudan and subsequently spread to Uganda and northeastern DRC. It is a type A meningoccal meningitis–typical for countries in the "meningitis belt"–which breaks out during the dry season. Strictly speaking, neither the DRC nor Uganda is in the "meningitis belt," but the region affected by the disease is growing and epidemics are occurring with increasing frequency in countries that had been spared in the past. MSF has also conducted a vaccination campaign for more than 580,000 people in Uganda's Arua district and has provided case-management support to health centers in the Arua and Koboko districts.