Video: Fighting the world’s biggest measles outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo 2020 © MSF

The biggest measles outbreak in a decade is raging in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The disease is responsible for more than 6,000 deaths in the past year alone, most of them children.

Patients, especially in rural areas, face both geographic and financial barriers to care. In response, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams provide drugs, transportation, and treatment. For example, in Kongo Central, one of the outbreak’s current hotspots, MSF teams offer patient care, support the local health care system, and participate in disease surveillance activities. In 2019, MSF treated more than 50,000 people for measles in DRC and vaccinated 816,000 children.


Fighting the World’s Biggest Measles Outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo is in the grip of the world’s biggest measles epidemic 

Phemba and Makiesa had measles for two weeks before they were taken to an MSF hospital

Dr Ousmane Ousseini
MSF doctor in Matadi

Their mother comes from a village situated 20 km away from here. The two children were hospitalized for 10 days in two health centers near their village. The treatment was ineffective and, on December 19, they were admitted here. Both had developed sepsis. Sadly, we lost one of them, but this little one here we were able to save. 

MSF provides assistance in Kongo Central, a hotspot of the epidemic 

Roland Fourcaud
MSF project coordinator in Kongo Central

Children who come here as soon as they start showing symptoms can be treated as outpatients, and we give them the necessary medication. We keep an eye on them, but they can go home. When we have complicated cases, who present other health issues, like malaria, malnutrition, or respiratory diseases, we have to hospitalize them immediately. 

The epidemic has caused over 6,000 deaths since January 2019
310,000 people have contracted the disease 

Health districts are vast, and outlying rural areas can be 100 km, 150 km from the referral hospital. And during the rainy season, when roads are covered with mud, it is hard getting around on foot or motorbike. 

Miradie, Bénédicte and Pacifique’s mother

With three children, I don’t know how I can get treatment for them. How much could it cost? What could I sell to pay for it? Where could I have gone with three children? 
Back home I heard kids with measles were being treated for free in Songololo. I went to the center, and they examined the children.

MSF teams offer patient care, supply drugs, and perform surveillance of the outbreak.

Roland Fourcaud
MSF project coordinator in Kongo Central

MSF sets up measles treatment centers where children are treated and hospitalized for free. We insist on the fact that treatment and transport cost nothing. 

To give you an idea, each health zone is roughly the same size as a French county. Of course, we work with personnel from the Ministry of Health and community workers in villages who help with screening people for measles.

In 2019, MSF treated over 50,000 patients in DRC and vaccinated 816,000 children against measles

To fight the epidemic, MSF teams provide assistance in 10 of DRC’s 26 provinces.