DRC declares measles outbreak after 1,500 deaths

Measles vaccination in Africa
Measles vaccination in Africa

Teseum / Flickr cc

Alongside a tough battle against Ebola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) health ministry yesterday declared a measles outbreak, spanning 23 of the country's 26 provinces and piling up 87,000 suspected cases since the first of the year.

In a related development, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) today said massive efforts are needed to curb the DRC's quickly spreading measles outbreak, its worst since 2012. MSF said the disease has claimed more than 1,500 lives.

Familiar response challenges

In its statement yesterday, the DRC health ministry said cases this year are up 700% compared to the same period in 2018. Of the suspected cases, tests so far have confirmed 677 infections in 83 health zones, and officials put the fatality estimate at 1.8%.

Cases this year have already topped the total for all of 2018, which was 65,098 suspected cases, of which 2,908 were confirmed and 961 were fatal, putting the death rate at 1.3%. The scope of last year's measles outbreak was also smaller, affecting 18 provinces.

The ministry said a greater proportion of cases have been confirmed this year, which helps track the persistence of the outbreak. It said its measles outbreak declaration is in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations.

Despite stepped-up mass vaccination campaigns in some provinces over the past few years, enormous challenges remain in some areas where insecurity, difficulty accessing vaccination sites, population movements, and resistance to vaccination are roadblocks to measles control efforts. Some of the same challenges have dogged the DRC's Ebola response, as well.

A mass measles vaccination campaign in April reached more than 2.2 million kids 63 health zones, and a second campaign is slated to begin in the coming days and will target 1.4 million more children across 39 health zones.

MSF: 1,500 deaths, vaccine needed

In a statement today, MSF urged countries and international health groups to immediately coordinate efforts to help the DRC address its outbreak, noting that the country urgently needs vaccines and supplies.

It said the DRC's outbreak this year has already resulted in more than 1,500 deaths, already within striking distance of reaching the number of deaths in 2012, when the country experienced its deadliest outbreak of the past decade. For comparison, 1,390 deaths have been reported in the DRC's Ebola outbreak since last August.

So far this year, MSF has been working with the health ministry on measles response in 10 provinces.

Comoros Islands outbreak

Elsewhere in Africa, a measles outbreak in the Comoros Islands has escalated beyond sporadic cases, the country's first since 2005-06, the WHO's African regional office said yesterday in its weekly health emergencies and outbreaks report.

As of Jun 1, 66 suspected cases have been reported, 16 of them confirmed. The hardest-hit area is Grand Comoros island, especially Moroni district.

So far, there's no evidence that the cases are the result of contact with travelers. The WHO added that the increased pace of infections comes weeks after April's Tropical Cyclone Kenneth caused disruptions, including to the public health system.

The WHO said a decline in immunization levels is one factor fueling the outbreak, and it notes that the country's vaccination program includes only one dose of measles vaccine.

See also:

Jun 10 DRC statement

Jun 11 MSF statement

Jun 10 WHO Africa report

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