Channelling attention to one outbreak causing another outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

Published by Dr. Nadeera Nilupamali on

The current COVID-19 outbreak has shifted our focus on one thing, how to prevent ourselves from the disease, but we are ignoring the fact that there are many other infectious diseases waiting to seize the right opportunity to come back. One very good example is current measles outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

What’s Happening in Congo?

According to the United Nations DRC is on its level 3 emergency list, a country with highest recognition of crisis, due to unacceptable living conditions that roughly 4.5 million Congolese people undergo. DRC has been battling Ebola, outbreaks of cholera and yellow fever and now mounting threat from the COVID-19.

While the healthcare system is already battered by Ebola in DRC, the country has diverted attention and resources to battle against the coronavirus. However, this has incapacitated the healthcare facilities which used to deal with several deadly endemic diseases.

Since early 2019, Measles cases surged in DRC infecting more than 332,000 out of more than 6,200 recorded fatalities, among them 85% of the reported were children under the age of five.

Measles: is it still a threat for Congo?

Yes. Measles is a highly contagious virus that continues to spread around the globe. Recent outbreaks of measles also have highlighted its ongoing threat. There have been several outbreaks across European countries where Measles vaccine uptake has been low historically.

In the year 2018, cases surged to an estimated 10 million worldwide, which resulted in 140,000 deaths. In many developing countries, measles is a killer, especially in combination with malnutrition and vitamin A deficiency. People with weak immune systems, such as those suffering from malnutrition or other diseases, are particularly vulnerable. Especially in the DRC the threats are even higher, a country with the highest birthrates in the world with an average of 6.6 children per mother which has led to an increasing shortage of food  and resulted in 23% of children being malnourished. Measles outbreak in DRC is alarming, particularly as some vital response measures have been disrupted by lockdown measures during the COVID-19.  According to WHO, the death rate due to measles  in developing countries hovers around 3–6%, and it can spike as high as 30% in the worst outbreaks.

What can the current Measles outbreak teach us when responding to COVID-19?

Many countries have suspended measles vaccination campaigns as they cope with  current pandemic COVID-19. Shifting attention to Ebola in Congo has resulted in Measles outbreak in the country and on top of that they have to fight with COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot disregard any disease and fight against one. The viruses will keep emerging if we focus on just one. Continuous efforts are much needed to make sure all the diseases we have controlled through vaccination remain controlled during this pandemic. Viruses like measles are so contagious, 92–95% of a population needs to be fully immunized to ward off outbreaks.  In DRC, only 57% of children received even one dose of measles vaccine and the outcome is revolting , hence, immunization cannot be stopped at any cost during this pandemic which might lead to another outbreak of vaccine preventable disease.


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