Pneumonic Plague Outbreak Increases in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo

Bunia, DRC/New York, June 22, 2006 – Since June 2, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have been monitoring and treating victims of a pneumonic plague outbreak in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

As of June 19, 22 deaths had been confirmed out of 144 identified cases so far in the Ituri region of the DRC. There are now 12 zones in Ituri–with a total population of almost 100,000–affected by the plague outbreak. Pneumonic plague is an extremely contagious airborne disease. Bubonic plague, a less contagious form of the disease, is endemic to Ituri.

Faced with a constant increase in the number of patients affected by the disease, MSF has deployed teams of medical volunteers to the area. They have set up two isolation centers for the treatment of patients in Kwandroma (Rethy medical district) and in Vedza (Linga medical district).

MSF is very concerned about the weak mobilization of other aid organizations in the area, particularly when it comes to active case finding and vector control, two imperative measures that need to be implemented when dealing with this type of situation.

"We urgently need all actors present in the field who have the capacity to conduct active searches for suspected cases and identification of individuals in contact with suspected cases, to mobilize resources, otherwise we could be soon confronted with an outbreak spiraling out of control," said Jérôme Souquet, head of mission for MSF in Ituri district. "We can already note a spread of the epidemic outbreak to new areas in the last few days."

MSF medical teams have so far been able to ensure that patients receive proper treatment and monitoring. The main objective of MSF teams is to reduce mortality to a minimum. To do this, and to stop the disease spreading further, MSF needs the active assistance of World Health Organization (WHO) teams and of the Congolese ministry of health. MSF teams cannot address all these issues on their own.

MSF is also concerned that if rapid control measures are not put in place, the outbreak could soon spread to some populations where access is restricted due to some security constraints, particularly around Budza, Djubate, Lailo and Zali, all located in the Rethy medical district. "An extension of the outbreak to areas where access is rendered difficult could have alarming consequences on the health situation," adds Souquet.

Since 2003, MSF teams have worked in Ituri District, where they operate the Bon Marché Hospital, a comprehensive medical facility in Bunia, the capital of the district, and respond to medical emergencies in the region. MSF teams in Bunia include 15 international and 325 Congolese staff.