DR Congo: Vaccination campaigns must be organised immediately to halt the measles epidemic

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and its partners to decide immediately to launch follow-up vaccination campaigns in Equateur and Orientale provinces so that the campaigns can begin in early September.

The DRC has been affected by a measles epidemic since late 2010. More than 106,000 cases have been recorded to date and more than 1,100 persons have died, the majority of them children. The epidemic has already reached Katanga, East and West Kasai, Maniema and South Kivu provinces, largely because the 2010 supplementary vaccination campaigns planned initially were not carried out.

When the authorities declared a measles epidemic last April, certain necessary measures were then taken quickly: children under 5 years received emergency vaccinations and supplementary campaigns were organized last July. More than 11 million children have already been vaccinated, including 3 million under the age of 15 with MSF’s assistance. However, these urgent efforts have not managed to limit the spread of the epidemic. A few weeks ago, it reached Equateur and Orientale provinces, where vaccination coverage is very poor.

"Vaccination campaigns had been planned for September 2011 in Orientale and Equateur provinces, but the decision to carry them out has not yet been confirmed," warns Dr. Northan HURTADO, MSF's vaccination coordinator. "Measles is a contagious disease and the complications can be life-threatening. There is still time to save lives by vaccinating all children under 5 who have not yet been vaccinated."

The two leading partners of DRC's Ministry of Health – the World Health Organization and Unicef – have mobilized. The vaccines have arrived in Kinshasa. The decision to launch the campaigns now rests solely with the government, with its financial participation the key issue.

Dr. Laurence SAILLY, MSF's medical coordinator in the DRC says, "If the campaign is not conducted in September, it could then be postponed because when the rainy season starts, it will be very difficult to organize the campaign. And with the start of the school year, we face an increased risk of infection among children."

MSF believes that the epidemic could spread into Oriental and Equateur provinces and asks the government to ensure that vaccinations will begin in September in order to halt the spread of the disease.