Measles: Deadly outbreak spreads like wildfire in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Publicação: 11 de September de 2019

Current measles epidemic, the most severe in the country since 2011/2012, was officially declared by authorities on June 10 and reaches critical levels

Measles epidemic affects 23 of the 26 provinces and has killed nearly 3 thousand people since January, mostly children. Country also suffers from Ebola outbreak and humanitarian crisis

A total of 2,758 people, mostly children, have died since January due to a measles outbreak affecting 23 of the 26 provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The figures were revealed in mid-August by the Médecins Sans Frontières Humanitarian Organization (MSF). With critical dimensions, this epidemic, declared by the authorities on June 10 is the deadliest since 2011/2012. Between January and early August, more than 145 thousand people were infected.

Since August 2018, the DRC has also been struggling with the Ebola epidemic, which is striding forward and could spread to neighboring countries, including Angola. South Kivu is one of the most affected provinces. According to a bulletin released by the Congolese Ministry of Health, on August 14, since the beginning of the epidemic, the accumulation of cases is 2,842, of which 2,748 were confirmed and 94 are still probable cases. In total there were 1,905 deaths (1,811 confirmed and 94 probable) and 844 people have been healed.

However, and with less visibility, the number of measles victims in the African country already exceeds the number of deaths by Ebola, with more than 145 thousand contagions. MSF emergency team coordinator at DRC, Fabrizio Andriolo, stressed the striking contrast to the Ebola outbreak, which attracts several organizations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. In its statement, the Organization stressed the need to raise more funds and regretted that, despite the scale of the epidemic, there is an alarming lack of efforts and funding to respond to the crisis. “Two months after the official statement and just before the beginning of the school year, the measles epidemic shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, since July the outbreak has worsened, with an increase of new cases reported in several provinces. If we want to contain the outbreak, it is imperative to strengthen the response immediately”, warned Karel Janssens, MSF general coordinator in the DRC.

Efforts to respond to both epidemics are undermined by insecurity in an area teeming with armed groups and resistance by the population to adequately protect themselves. Attacks and fighting by hundreds of armed groups living in northeastern DRC have left nearly 2 thousand dead in the past two years, 100 mass rape victims and more than 3 thousand people abducted, according to a report released by Kivu Security, a joint project of the Human Rights Watch Non-Governmental Organization and the New York University’s Congo Research Group (GEC), with 15 Congolese field researchers speaking with the population, authorities and civil society to document what they consider to be a “forgotten crisis”.

According to the tool, the figures behind Africa’s longest humanitarian crisis show that between June 1, 2017 and June 26, 2019, there were 3,015 violent incidents in which 6,555 victims were killed in North and South Kivu provinces alone, two of the hardest hits by violence in the northeast of the country. The epicenter of the violence and where three out of ten incidents have occurred is the Beni territory in northern North Kivu, mainly because of clashes between the army and the Ugandan radical Muslims of the Democratic Allied Forces insurgency (DAF).

While the forgotten Congo, which is struggling with humanitarian crisis, measles and Ebola, the number of orphaned or single children is growing at the same rate as epidemics and conflict. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued a warning in a statement: About 4,000 children were orphaned or left unattended as a result of the Ebola epidemic. For the MSF Humanitarian Organization, unless there is massive mobilization of funds and organizations, the measles outbreak could get even worse. An uncertain future in a harsh and sad reality awaits these children amid so much devastation brought on by disease and violence.