MSF Calls for Increased Action from International Health Actors
International health agencies must increase and speed up their response to a measles epidemic rapidly spreading through the Democratic Republic of Congo.
New York/Brussels/Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2011 — The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and international health agencies must immediately increase their response to a measles epidemic rapidly spreading through the country, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
Over the past few months, MSF has undertaken a complete emergency measles response (treatment, vaccination, and epidemiological surveillance) in Katanga, Kasaï Occidental, and South-Kivu provinces. More than 1.5 million children have been vaccinated and 21,000 measles cases detected over the past six months. However, new measles outbreaks have flared in Bandundu, Kasaï Oriental, and Maniema provinces. The epidemic is rapidly moving north and is showing no signs of slowing.
“The disease is spreading like wildfire,” said Gaël Hankenne, MSF head of mission in the DRC. “All parties involved in health in the DRC must now make this epidemic a national priority.”
The logistical, financial, and human resources necessary to stop this extremely contagious and often fatal disease are massive, and MSF cannot be the only organization providing a hands-on response throughout the entire country, said Hankenne.
The organization is asking DRC’s Ministry of Health to respond as soon as outbreaks are reported in the country. It is also requesting that international donors and institutions, and health organizations working in the DRC—particularly United Nations agencies such as the WHO and UNICEF, and other NGOs—take action immediately.
“We request that they either release emergency funding or undertake hands-on action as part of an epidemic response,” said Geza Harzi, MSF head of mission in the southern DRC province of Katanga. “If this international response is not rapid, it will be impossible to check the spread of measles in the DRC.”
Measles can cause medical complications including pneumonia, malnutrition, severe dehydration, ear infections, and eye infections that can cause blindness. Mortality rates vary considerably depending on the context. Among a population that has not been vaccinated, measles can kill between 1 and 15 percent of afflicted children. Among vulnerable groups, such as those who have been displaced or are malnourished, the mortality rate can be as high as 25 percent if people have limited access to health care, as is the case throughout DRC.
MSF is expanding its emergency response in three provinces: Tshikapa in Kasaï Occidental province, at Fizi in South-Kivu province, and at Kolwezi and Likasi in Katanga province. More than one million children will be protected with emergency vaccinations.