Measles has killed more than 5,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since January, twice the Ebola epidemic since August 2018 in the country, said Wednesday the World Health Organization.
« The outbreak in the DRC is the largest in the world. This is one of the most important we have ever seen, « said Kate O’Brien, Director of the WHO Immunization Department, at a press conference in Geneva.
She said that as of November 17, 250,270 cases had been registered in the DRC, and 5,110 deaths.
The last measles outbreak in that country was declared in June and in September, a massive vaccination campaign was launched as a matter of urgency.
WHO said the campaign should be completed by the end of the year.
Ms. O’Brien pointed out that the epidemic had spread « all over the country » and that the most vulnerable were « children and babies ».
Measles, characterized by the eruption of red spots on the skin, remains a life-threatening disease. It is caused by a virus that is transmitted very easily by direct contact or in the air. Before the arrival of vaccines in the 1970s, it killed 7 to 8 million children a year in the world.
The measles epidemic in the DRC has attracted far less attention than the Ebola outbreak that has raged in the east of the country since August 2018 and has left some 2,200 people dead.
Ian Norton of the WHO Emergency Medical Unit said that the UN specialized agency had started training some Ebola teams in the DRC to also treat measles cases.
But the efforts of the medical teams to overcome the two epidemics are hampered by violence in the East.
In particular, WHO has had to remove 49 Ebola officials from the eastern city of Beni due to insecurity.
Since the beginning of the month, 99 civilians have been killed by armed groups in the Beni territory, according to the New York University Congo Study Group (GEC).
« The response to Ebola is hampered by insecurity, » Norton said. « We can say the same thing (…) for measles, not only in Beni, but in the whole country. »
Norton said the WHO was « extremely worried » about growing insecurity, stressing that it has « a disastrous impact on the management of the disease ».