A measles outbreak has been occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the beginning of the year, with 16,500 cases reported from January to June.
The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – also known as Doctors Without Borders in the U.S.) was able to take responsive measures starting in March, vaccinating over 287,000 children either to combat measles or to prevent it.
Since May, all of the children aged 6 months to 10 years in the Malemba Nkulu health zone – 101,000 in total – were vaccinated.
Over 500 members of the MSF team have been deployed to respond to the measles outbreak in the Congolese provinces. They are working to transport and administer vaccines and care for those afflicted by the disease. But the fight against measles calls for more than just brave, skillful responders.
The challenges in treating the epidemic are great and many, but organizations like MSF overcome them by being aware of these challenges so that they can be addressed.
The last time that Katanga (the Congolese province where the most cases are being seen) had a measles outbreak this serious was in 2011. MSF and other organizations involved in treating this outbreak are drawing on the lessons they learned from 2011 to treat this outbreak more efficiently.
The head of the MSF mission in the Congo, Jean-Guy Vataux, cites several barriers to fighting the disease: “shortage of funds, running out of vaccines, problems maintaining the cold chain. . . and a lack of qualified human resources.”
Shortage of funds is a problem humanitarian organizations have always been familiar with. Organizations like the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Measles and Rubella Immunization Initiative provide grants to humanitarian organizations – they have funded several vaccination campaigns during the current outbreak.
Donations from governments, organizations, corporations, and individuals can be sent to groups like these, or also straight to the organizations fighting the disease on the ground (MSF, WHO, etc.)
Beyond the scope of finance, organizations are working together to make sure they reach as many people as possible.
In Sudan, health professionals involved in the response have noted the increased effectiveness of response when different organizations, such as MSF and UNICEF, work together. It is through the teamwork of different organizations that barriers, like marshy roads that make villages difficult to access, can be evaluated and worked through.
The Ministry of Health in Sudan and WHO are working together on a plan of action to help about 180,000 people in the Zamzam camp. Currently, the camp has ongoing routine immunizations for children and pregnant women. Eight different vaccination centers are up and running, staffed by 20 vaccinators.
Areas such as case investigation and response measures are also being reevaluated for efficiency. Investigations are particularly pertinent because oftentimes, the disease goes untreated, ad thus deaths go unreported and statistics are inaccurate. Without a proper understanding of the situation, resources can’t be allocated to where they are needed.
According to Dr. Malik Alabbasi, Director-General of the Public Health Care Directorate in the Federal Ministry of Health, recent reports have already reflected improvement in case management and implementation of vaccines.
The situation in the Congo and Sudan is grim in many ways, but through the collective effort of organizations determined to make a difference, the fight against measles is making slow and steady progress.
– Emily Dieckman