More than 6,000 people have died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, as a result of the “world’s worst measles epidemic,” with the country reporting about 310,000 suspected measles cases since the start of 2019, according to WHO.
“We are doing our utmost to bring this epidemic under control,” Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, MSc, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in a press release. “Yet, to be truly successful, we must ensure that no child faces the unnecessary risk of death from a disease that is easily preventable by a vaccine. We urge our donor partners to urgently step up their assistance.”
In 2019, more than 18 million children younger than 5 years were vaccinated in the DRC with support and leadership from the DRC Ministry of Health, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO, as well as other partner aid agencies.
Despite these efforts, however, routine vaccination coverage in some areas of the country remains low. Moreover, WHO said that 25% of the measles cases in the current epidemic are in children aged older than 5 years, “who are the most vulnerable.”
Along with low vaccination coverage, the epidemic has been driven by malnutrition, fragile public health systems, outbreaks of other epidemic-prone diseases, challenges in access to health care and insecurity that has hindered the response to the epidemic.
Insufficient funding is also ‘a huge impediment’ to curtailing the epidemic. A plan to further extend the vaccination program to children aged between 6 and 14 years would require an additional $40 million, not including the $27.6 million that has already been provided. More funding would also help strengthen elements of the outbreak response beyond vaccination, such as improving treatment, providing health education and community engagement and strengthening the health system, epidemiological surveillance and response coordination, according to the release.
“We recognize the government's engagement in the efforts to end the outbreak and we are grateful for the generosity of our donors. But we still need to do more," Amedee Prosper Djiguimde, MBBS, the officer in charge of the WHO office in the DRC, said in the release. ‘Thousands of Congolese families need our help to lift the burden of this prolonged epidemic from their backs. We cannot achieve this without adequate finances.”
Disclosures: Moeti and Djiguimde are employed by WHO.