Published Date: 2010-12-02 14:56:25
Subject: PRO/EAFR> Measles - Africa (39): DR Congo (South Kivu, Katanga)
Archive Number: 20101202.215739
MEASLES - AFRICA (39): DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (SOUTH KIVU, KATANGA)
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: Mon 29 Nov 2010
Source: Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders [edited]
After health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officially declared that a number of measles epidemics had hit the country, Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders (MSF) began carrying out mass immunization campaigns to increase measles vaccination coverage in the affected areas. In addition to vaccinations, medical teams have treated hundreds of measles cases.
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread quickly with deadly consequences for vulnerable populations. DRC is one of the countries where the disease persists despite successful
efforts to control it elsewhere in the world.
"Epidemics like these are avoidable if the population has been vaccinated," said Karla Bil, MSF's health advisor. "Mass immunization campaigns are so important because they raise the level of
vaccination coverage and prevent unnecessary deaths."
In the health zone of Fizi, in South Kivu province, MSF aims to vaccinate 120 000 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years. Over the next 6 weeks, medical teams will keep trying to reach remote locations despite ongoing and expanding military operations in the area and the looming rainy season. The plan is to immunize nearly every child in the health zone. Preparations started when a measles epidemic was confirmed at the end of September 2010. Since then, in addition to the vaccinations, MSF has also treated approximately 300 people in the area who were suffering from measles and its complications.
Simultaneously, MSF has been responding to a measles epidemic around Dilolo, in Katanga Province, near the Angolan border. Since September , 368 measles cases have been confirmed. Last week [week ending 28 Nov 2010], MSF started a campaign to vaccinate 72 000 children in and around Dilolo. Teams are hoping to vaccinate 90 percent of the children in the area. MSF will also carry out an epidemiological assessment in the neighboring health zone of Kasaji, where measles cases have been reported.
In Bendera [Katanga province], MSF teams are vaccinating 12 000 children, half of whom were displaced from their homes in South Kivu last year . MSF teams have also treated several cases of measles in the region.
The village of Lubilo was at the epicenter of the measles outbreak. Located in South Kivu, on the eastern side of a peninsula that extends into Lake Tanganyika, the village has a population of
approximately 3500 people and is extremely isolated, reachable only by boat.
After the local health authority reported that 12 cases of measles had resulted in the deaths of 2 children, an MSF team left for the village the next day. After a 5-hour boat trip, they were greeted by concerned villagers. The 1st priority was setting up an isolation tent where suspected cases could receive treatment and the spread of the disease could be contained. Measles is an extremely contagious disease; almost all non-immune children contract the infection if exposed to the virus.
The next task was informing villagers via megaphone to bring any sick children immediately to the heath post for free medical care. Soon, the wooden benches were filled by mothers with sick children waiting for a consultation. A child had died the night before and people were desperate to get their children seen. Many were severely dehydrated, malnourished, and suffering from complications such as pneumonia or diarrhea. 50 cases were confirmed that day alone, and 5 seriously ill children were immediately given IV drips. One of them died during the night. The other 4 were transferred by boat to the MSF-supported hospital in Baraka [South Kivu] the next day.
MSF has treated around 300 children who have been affected by the measles epidemic in and around Lubilo. One of the many affected is an 8-year-old girl who was brought by her mother to the MSF health post when a rash appeared on her face and then spread rapidly to her arms and legs. She had a high fever and had been coughing for several days. Her eyes were badly irritated and she had difficulties breathing. She was very lethargic and had been unable to eat.
Concerned by her fragile state, the team transferred her by boat to an MSF supported hospital in Baraka for treatment. She responded well to treatment and is now fully recovered and back with her mother at home.
MSF had vaccinated more than half a million children against measles in 2009, but dealing with the current outbreaks was a different undertaking given the present and urgent need to vaccinate so many
children so quickly. MSF employed more than 100 extra staff in South Kivu to visit villages in the region and inform them about the free vaccination program. There were also radio announcements in several local languages.
"I was working in the fields when I heard the news about the measles vaccination program from some other mothers," said a 31-year-old mother from Kilungu in South Kivu. "Then I decided to go there with my children." She eventually travelled more than 30 kilometers (18 miles) with her 5 children to get them vaccinated.
It was no easy task to get enough of the vaccine into the country in the 1st place. "It's been a huge logistical challenge sourcing 150 000 doses of measles vaccine at fairly short notice, certainly considering the heightened demand in the region," said Grace Tang, MSF's head of mission in South Kivu.
And once the vaccine was in the country, MSF had to ensure that it was kept cold during transportation so that it reached the populations in optimal condition. The measles vaccine contains live microorganisms and to be effective must be kept at a controlled temperature between 2 and 8 deg C [35.6-46.4 deg F]. "We've had to use cooling elements, solar powered fridges, and locate fridges along the route," said Tang. "But it's been so worthwhile seeing children in the area getting a lifetime's protection from this disease."
HealthMap Alerts via ProMED-EAFR
[For now, these emergency measles vaccination campaigns may offer a short term solution to control the current outbreaks, but the long term solution definitely lies in improving physical access to health care. This will allow provision of immunisation services on a regular basis as part of routine health care and hence strengthen routine immunisation services in the region. The interventions described above should be implemented alongside routine surveillance for measles and regular supplementary immunisation campaigns.
A map showing the provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be seen at
The HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map of the country is available
athttp://healthmap.org/r/0g7I. - Mod.JFW]