Over 6,000 people, mostly children, have died in the devastating measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the BBC reported Wednesday.
This is currently the largest measles outbreak in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 310,000 people contracted the disease in 2019 alone.
Despite the launch of an emergency vaccination program in September, measles immunization has remained relatively low in the DRC.
In addition to an overall lack of access to health care, vaccine shortages, rebel attacks, and faulty infrastructure, the DRC is experiencing an Ebola outbreak, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,230 people.
Access to the measles vaccine is limited. On top of the shortage, the vaccine must be stored in a facility with relatively cold temperatures to maintain the vaccine’s effectiveness, which is not always possible in rural areas.
However, the emergency vaccination program succeeded in vaccinating over 18 million children under the age of five.
“We are doing our utmost to bring this epidemic under control,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a news 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.”
Lack of funding remains a significant obstacle in the way of controlling the outbreak. In addition to the $27 million in aid already acquired, another $40 million is needed to expand the vaccination efforts to children under 14 years of age, according to the WHO.
“We recognize the government’s engagement in the efforts to end the outbreak and we are grateful for the generosity of our donors,” Dr. Amédée Prosper Djiguimdé, the officer in charge of the DRC's WHO office, said in the release. “But we still need to do more. 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.”
An extremely contagious disease, measles is spread through coughing and sneezing. With a 90% infection rate, every one person with the disease can infect at least two others on average. Since there is no set treatment plan, vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the disease from spreading.
"It is essential that humanitarian organizations and other responders pool all possible efforts to help the Congolese Ministry of Public Health to overcome this measles outbreak," Alex Wade, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in the DRC, said in a statement. "Too many children have died from this easily preventable disease."