DR Congo beats measles

Democratic Republic of Congo declares end to measles outbreak after mass vaccination project

Photo by United Nations Photo on Flickr.

— 2 minute read — By Sam Portillo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has finally declared an end to a deadly measles outbreak which ran rampant across the country for over a year and claimed an estimated 7,000 lives.

Children under the age of five represented 90 percent of deaths, owing to the fact that their immune systems are still in development and they are less likely to have been vaccinated. Measles can present itself with mild symptoms, but much like COVID-19, can lead to serious health complications especially in people with poorer health. The Democratic Republic, then, with a population of millions of un-vaccinated, malnourished children, made itself particularly susceptible to such an outbreak.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), near 80 percent of the country lives in extreme poverty, defined by earning the equivalent of less than $1.25 a day. Despite the country holding over half of the continent’s water reserves, only 1 in 4 people have access to safe drinking water. Coupled with extreme poverty, a lack of basic infrastructure and healthcare calls for support from the international community.

UNICEF organised the distribution of medicines to help treat symptoms while at the same time undergoing a mass vaccination project to cut the chain of virus transmission. The World Health Organisation estimates that 95 percent of a population must be vaccinated to stop a disease like measles from circulating. In 2018, the WHO put immunisation coverage in the DRC at 57 percent.

“We’re facing this alarming situation because millions of Congolese children miss out on routine immunisation and lack access to health care when they fall sick,” said the country’s UNICEF representative.

While much of the attention was turned to coronavirus, the highly contagious measles virus swept through the country, killing thousands of children. In the past few months, however, the national government and international aid organisations like UNICEF co-ordinated a huge vaccination project, giving protection to millions of individuals and giving the virus nowhere to turn. The loss of so many lives represents a tragedy, but the country can claim a victory, having eliminated one more danger to its people.