By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - Over nine days nearly 825,000 children up to age 5 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are set to be vaccinated against measles as part of an emergency campaign, the third this year.
The campaign announced late Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the country’s government will cover 24 health zones throughout the vast Central African country -- bigger than Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway combined.
In a statement, the WHO said as of Sept. 17 nearly 184,000 suspected measles cases -- some 6,000 confirmed -- had been reported in 192 of 519 health zones nationwide.
These include 3,667 deaths, nearly all them children.
“The DRC is experiencing a dire situation because too many children were missed by routine immunization,” said Dr. Deo Nshimirimana, WHO representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The country now has large clusters of children who need to be vaccinated. WHO and partners are working with the Health Ministry to move as quickly as possible to reach them,” he added.
Every one of the country’s 26 provinces has reported cases of measles and is battling to control this outbreak, which the Health Ministry declared on June 10.
In the country, last year routine measles immunization coverage was only 57%, according to the WHO.
This latest campaign will bring the total number of children in the selected age group reached through emergency vaccination to more than 4.1 million in at least 121 of the 192 affected health zones, according to the WHO.
The 24 health zones targeted in the emergency campaign are located in six provinces: Equateur, Mongala, Kwilu, Kwango, Mai-Ndombe and Kasai Oriental.
Measles is a preventable but contagious disease which can kill a child or impair their vision and hearing abilities or damage the brain.
The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared to the same period last year, the WHO said in April, with higher rates of the disease seen in all regions.
As well as Congo, fresh outbreaks were reported in Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Myanmar, the Philippines, Sudan, Thailand and Ukraine, causing many deaths, mostly among young children, the WHO said.