Insecurity in northeastern Congo makes response to measles outbreak difficult


From Djaffar to Katanty

BUNIA, Congo (Reuters) – Insecurity in northeast Congo has crippled measles vaccination and forced people to flee their homes, local officials said on Wednesday, complicating efforts to control the spread of a virus that killed more people who have Ebola this year.

At least 1,500 people have died of measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the beginning of 2019, according to health officials, compared to 1,390 killed in an Ebola epidemic in the east.

Ethnic violence between Lendu farmers and Hema cattle farmers in the northeastern Ituri province has forced thousands to seek refuge in refugee camps in the regional capital of Bunia. Overcrowding in camps increases the chance of catching measles.

"As they are concentrated in the fields, the contamination rate is very high," said Dr. John Katabuka, director of Bunia's main hospital.

Displaced people say they become more vulnerable due to lack of supplies and adequate housing in the fields, where people waited in long lines to fill water cans.

"We need to separate so we do not get as concentrated as this," said Buuma Betseba, head of the IDP camp in Bunia.

"We will be infected by more than one disease – there is measles and Ebola," he said.

Although health authorities have concentrated efforts to combat the second worst outbreak of Ebola ever recorded, some 87,000 suspected cases of measles have been recorded nationwide so far this year, more than the 65,000 recorded last year, second the Ministry of Health.

In Bunia, local health authority chief Louis Tshulo said insecurity prevented measles vaccination of children in certain areas last year.

"It is as a result of poor vaccination coverage in 2018 that we are afraid that the immunity of children and particularly under-fives would be weak," he told Reuters.

Last week, the Health Ministry said its vaccination campaign would target 1.4 million babies and that 2.2 million were vaccinated in April.

(Written by Alessandra Prentice, Tim Cocks Edition, William Maclean Edition)


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