By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - The death toll from a measles epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has surpassed 6,000, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday, up from 5,110 deaths reported last November.
Partner agencies led by the country’s Ministry of Health vaccinated more than 18 million children under five across the country in 2019, according to the WHO.
But in some areas, routine vaccination coverage remains low, and 25% of the reported measles cases involve children over the age of five, who are the most vulnerable, it said.
“We are doing our utmost to bring this epidemic under control. 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,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Since the start of 2019, around 310,000 suspected measles cases have been reported, with the epidemic being aggravated by several factors, according to the WHO.
Low vaccination coverage among vulnerable communities, malnutrition, weak public health systems, outbreaks of other epidemic-prone diseases, difficult access by vulnerable populations to healthcare and insecurity were cited among the factors aggravating the disease.
Meanwhile, the WHO said inadequate funding remains a huge impediment to successfully curbing the outbreak.
So far, US$27.6 million has been mobilized, it said.
However, a further US$40 million is required for a six-month plan to extend the vaccination to children between six and 14 years and to reinforce elements of the outbreak response beyond vaccination to improving treatment, health education, community engagement, health system strengthening, epidemiological surveillance and response coordination.
“We still need to do more,” said Dr. Amédée Prosper Djiguimdé, Officer in charge of the WHO’s office in the DR Congo.
“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.”