DRC: MSF sees 250 per cent rise in malaria cases

© Sandra Smiley/MSF -- A young patient receiving malaria treatment in an MSF-supported hospital. Kinkondja, Katanga Province, DRC.

Kinshasa/Brussels, 25 April 2012 - A massive increase in malaria cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is overwhelming existing treatment capacity, and demands a comprehensive and stepped-up response, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

MSF’s health centres and hospitals have observed a marked increase in the number of patients with malaria, including severe malaria. In six provinces (half of the country), the number of people treated for malaria in MSF projects has risen by 250 per cent since 2009.

The rise has been particularly sharp in recent months. An alarmingly high number of patients with severe malaria require hospitalisation and urgent blood transfusions due to malaria-induced anaemia.  

"Treatment outside the cities remains especially weak, as it is inaffordable of or geographically inaccessible,” said Dr Jorgen Stassijns, a malaria specialist at MSF. “In some areas, healthcare is simply non-existent. Even when treatment is available, the drugs are sometimes inadequate or outdated," he said.

MSF has deployed additional emergency medical teams in four provinces in DRC. In 2011, more than 158,000 people were treated. In 2009, MSF teams treated more than 45,000 people with malaria. So far this year, more than 85,000 people have been treated. But the burden of disease is so high that MSF is unable to respond in all affected areas.

MSF is developing research studies to understand the causes of this increase. The crisis is unfolding within a context of a health system that is sorely lacking resources at all levels. The country does not have sufficient numbers of trained medical staff. It does not have adequate medicines or medical supplies, and malaria prevention and management systems are deficient.

In North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, and recently in the northern area of Katanga province, insecurity and fighting are also preventing people from accessing healthcare. In Maniema, Orientale, Equateur and Katanga provinces, the limited presence of effective healthcare providers and overstretched health systems make it difficult for people living in endemic areas to access prevention and treatment.

While MSF’s emergency response is saving lives in the short term, the organisation calls on other international health organisations, including the Ministry of Health, to increase their efforts to provide rapid and sustainable prevention and treatment measures.

Malaria is the leading cause of death in DRC, killing approximately 300,000 children under the age of five every year.