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Measles remains a significant threat in the DR Congo

Measles is one of the main causes of preventable death among children. Therefore the disease is one of the top targets for health programmes which have global support, such as the Measles & Rubella Initiative.

This is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and run in cooperation with a number of key partners, such as the GAVI alliance.

Vaccination is key to preventing deaths from measles. The cost of immunising children is less than 1 US dollar and when correctly administered at nine months of age, a vaccine can give life-long protection. Data suggests that wide-scale vaccination programmes conducted over the last decade in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced deaths from measles by a dramatic 85% between 2000 and 2010.

However, investment and political commitment have faltered in some countries, leading to the reoccurrence of measles outbreaks. And in certain countries, medical facilities are simply inadequate to cover the entire population. This is the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), where non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide most of the healthcare support.

But in a vast country with such huge health challenges, the NGOs are not able to cover all areas and all children. This means that many go unimmunised. The medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has recently provided a fresh report on how measles is affecting children in the DR Congo, where an epidemic began in 2010 and has since been spreading across the country.

In the north, this killer disease is now threatening tens of thousands of children. Speaking to IRIN, a spokesperson for MSF said that measles was spreading quickly and many children were dying “because the health facilities cannot provide adequate care”.

In normal situations, measles may kill between 5–15% of unvaccinated children who contract the disease. However, in refugee situations or where populations are malnourished, the death rate can be as high as 25–30%. MSF is therefore extremely worried about the number of deaths still likely to occur in the DR Congo. Already, since March last year, the charity has treated over 18,000 patients and vaccinated 440,000 children in the Equateur and Orientale provinces.

Despite the charity’s efforts, it is impossible to reach all children and at the right time, particularly in more remote regions. MSF officials therefore found that in one village alone, 35 children had died from the disease. While health coverage remains inadequate, measles will continue to claim the lives of many more children.

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