‘World’s worst’ measles outbreak kills 6,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for more funding to stop what it has described as “the world’s worst measles epidemic” in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
More than 6,000 people have died of measles in the central African nation since the start of 2019, with 310,000 suspected measles cases reported.
According to the BBC, every one of the country’s 26 provinces reported measles cases last year.
In a statement, the WHO said more than 18 million children under the age of five were vaccinated against the disease last year, but routine vaccination coverage remains low in some areas.
According to the WHO, the epidemic has been made worse by factors such as low vaccination levels in vulnerable communities, as well as malnutrition, weak public health systems in the country and outbreaks of other diseases, such as Ebola.
But the WHO said a lack of funding was “a huge impediment” to curbing the outbreak.
“We are doing our utmost to bring this epidemic under control,” WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said in the statement.
“Yet to be truly successful we must ensure that no child faces the unnecessary risk of death from a disease that is easily preventable by a vaccine,” Dr Moeti said.
“We urge our donor partners to urgently step up their assistance.”
The WHO said $US27.6 million ($40.2 million) had already been spent fighting the outbreak, but another $US40 million was needed to extend vaccinations to children between six and 14 years of age.
Twenty-five per cent of the reported measles cases in the country are in children over the age of five.
“We recognise the Government’s engagement in the efforts to end the outbreak and we are grateful for the generosity of our donors,” officer in charge of WHO office in the DRC Amedee Prosper Djiguimde said in the statement.
“But we still need to do more.”
“Thousands of Congolese families need our help to lift the burden of this prolonged epidemic from their backs. We cannot achieve this without adequate finances.”
Measles cases resurgent worldwide
Last year, WHO experts warned of an “alarming upsurge” of cases in pockets of unvaccinated people in all regions of the world.
WHO data shows the number of cases quadrupled from the same period in 2018 in the first three months of last year.
In December, the South Pacific island nation of Samoa lifted a six-week emergency after bringing a deadly measles outbreak under control.
More than 5,600 people were infected with 81 people dying from measles up to December.
Late last year, Western Australia experienced its worst outbreak of measles in two decades, with 28 reported cases from late September to late October.
This week, the Port Moresby General Hospital confirmed a five-month-old child had been diagnosed with measles. Two other cases of measles have already been detected in the country.
Measles can be prevented with two doses of a vaccine that has been proven to be safe and effective and has been in use since the 1960s.
The measles virus causes coughing, rashes and fever and can lead to potentially fatal complications including pneumonia and an inflammation of the brain known as encephalitis.
Recent studies have revealed that measles is more dangerous than doctors previously realised because it destroys immunity that the victim has acquired to other diseases.