DR CONGO – Governor of Eastern Maniema province in the Democratic Republic of Congo has officially declared a measles epidemic in his province.
Affani Idrissa Mangala told reporters that more than 450 cases have so far been reported since the beginning of 2021.
The declaration followed confirmation of the samples sent to the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) in the country.
“Since the tenth week of 2021, Kunda Health Zone in Kasongo territory has already reported 458 cases and 17 deaths from measles. After analysis, carried out by the INRB on samples taken from the health area of Bikenge during the 42nd week, the epidemic was confirmed,” he said.
He called on the residents to be vigilant and to consult the nearest health centers in case of fever, generalized rash, conjunctivitis, cough and cold. The epidemic reappears amid ongoing strike by nurses in public health facilities.
In July, it was reported that many children missed out on measles vaccines because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, stirring fears that there could be an outbreak of the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“In the last two to three months we’ve not been able to carry out routine measles vaccinations, which is worrying,” said Eugénie Ngabo Nzigire, a nurse based in the eastern city of Bukavu.
The World Health Organization has warned that with an estimated 140 million measles vaccinations around the world having been missed due to Covid-19 disruption, countries with fragile healthcare systems, such as DR Congo, could be sitting on a “time bomb” of potential outbreaks.
DR Congo reported 440,000 cases in its last measles outbreak, which ended in September, 2020.
Nearly 8,000 people – mainly children – died from measles between 2018 and 2020 in the country, according to monitoring data from the WHO.
Measles is the most infectious preventable disease in the world, much more contagious than Covid-19. It is spread through contact and droplets that can remain in the air for hours.
Still a common killer, there are outbreaks currently in Pakistan and Yemen as well as concerns that there could be one in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
It’s not only DR Congo that’s been affected by the pandemic. Many countries have fallen behind with critical vaccination programmes, threatening the health of an estimated 228 million people – mostly children – at risk of diseases such as polio, yellow fever and measles.
Of the more than 20 countries which temporarily halted their measles vaccination campaigns entirely last year, 15 were in Africa.
Prior to the pandemic, in 2019 measles infections surged worldwide reaching the highest number of reported cases in 23 years – resulting in nearly 208,000 deaths.
Experts say the high number of cases and death toll were mainly fuelled by a failure to vaccinate children on time with the recommended two doses of the vaccine.
However, in countries like DR Congo, where there is conflict, weak healthcare systems and limited resources, even providing a single dose to every child in the country under the age of five is a struggle.