The Democratic Republic of Congo is facing the worst measles outbreak since 2011, according to Doctors Without Borders. So far this year, over 23,000 cases of measles were reported in the Katanga region of the country. The UN and Doctors Without Borders have calculated over 400 deaths.
The epidemic started in February of this year. In just one village with a population of 500, 30 children died in just 2 months. Despite the number of deaths, the central government in Kinshasa hadn’t recognized the measles epidemic and the deaths caused by it until earlier this month.
Doctors Without Borders has vaccinated over 300,000 children, despite the difficulties of having to keep the vaccine cold and requiring 2 shots, weeks apart for effectiveness.
An additional difficulty has been the lack of infrastructure with bad roads and railroads that are usually never fixed or where fuel runs low. Some villages are hardly accessible, only way to get there is by foot, motorcycle or canoe.
The UN has estimated $2.4 million to vaccinate everyone. The vaccine is effective enough it has wiped out the measles outbreak in western countries. The problem in countries such as the DR of Congo is children’s immune systems have been weakened from malnutrition, malaria and cholera.
The vaccine while effective, cannot prevent death when complications such as blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea and related dehydration, or severe respiratory infections.
In addition, vaccination has proved difficult in a region which has tried to become independent from the rest of the country. The ongoing fighting between local militia and Congolese army over mining areas leads to villagers fleeing for days or weeks. However, efforts are ongoing to improve the current living conditions for Congolese citizens, especially children.
– Paula Acevedo