Epidemic Strikes District in Democratic Republic of Congo

MSF Launches Vaccination Program

Goma, Congo/New York, September 2, 1999 — The international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has begun a large-scale measles vaccination program in the Orientale province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The campaign was launched in response to a measles epidemic, which has broken out among persons displaced by fighting between two ethnic groups in this region. An estimated 40,000 people have been made homeless by the fighting. Cholera and plague cases have also increased sharply.

A violent conflict between the Hema and Lendu tribes has been waged in the Ituri district of eastern Congo since mid-June. The war is reported already to have claimed a large number of dead and injured. The displaced are living in conditions of poor hygiene, and health centers in the region have been looted, torched, or abandoned, leaving both the local population and the displaced without medical aid. Because people cannot work in their fields, there is a shortage of food and consequently malnutrition has arisen. The measles epidemic has resulted from this combination of underfeeding, overcrowding, and scanty vaccination. MSF will vaccinate 30,000 to 35,000 children against measles in the next few days.

MSF is also distributing anti-cholera drugs and will support health posts on both sides of the conflict, carrying out reconstruction and providing supplies and medicines. Spurred by the spread of cholera in the region, MSF has distributed medicines and water purification equipment. It intends to approach other international aid organizations to guarantee clean drinking water in the longer term.

Together with local health services, MSF is examining measures that can be taken against plague. This disease is endemic in the region, but instead of the usual handful of cases per year there have been 18 since the beginning of August, 5 of them fatal.

MSF has been operating in Ituri District since 1993. The organization has 13 international staff in eastern Congo, three of whom are now working on the program in Ituri district in close collaboration with local staff. MSF and the International Committee of the Red Cross are the only foreign aid organizations in Congo’s Orientale province.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.