Half a million children to be vaccinated for measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo

measles campaign © Alixandra Fenton Click image for larger view Her eyes weeping with tears from severe congunctivitis - which can be one of the symptoms of measles - 14 month old Lufu Mbuyi is carried along with other children to be assessed by a team from MSF visiting the remote village of Ntumba, in November of 2003, in response to reports of a measles epidemic. "Vaccination campaigns in most parts of the DRC are complicated due to the totally inadequate infrastructure," said Billiet. "You come up against difficulties that you would rarely encounter elsewhere in the world." MSF has begun a sixth phase of a preventative measles vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which will take the total number of immunisations to nearly 500,000. The objective of the new campaign will be to cover around 55,000 children between the ages of six months and 15 years of age across the health zone of Yahuma, one of the remotest and most inaccessible areas in the country. "Vaccination campaigns in most parts of the DRC are complicated due to the totally inadequate infrastructure," explains Maureen Billiet, MSF medical reference for the DRC. "You come up against difficulties that you would rarely encounter elsewhere in the world. For instance, we have to set up an unbroken 'cold-chain' to keep vaccines under a certain temperature. Doing so whilst travelling by motorbike for hundreds of kilometres across mud tracks is a daunting task." The vaccination is being organised by a nurse and logistician working alongside teams comprised of MSF national staff and counterparts from the local Ministry of Health. The teams identify vaccination sites for villages, having first conducted awareness campaigns to ensure that people know why, when and where to come. measles campaign © Alixandra Fenton Click image for larger view Doctor Olaf Valverde of MSF uses a stethoscope to check the breathing of a young boy exhibiting post measles symptoms as villagers gather under the shade of a tree in the village of Kamona during a measles vaccination campaign in November, 2003. The current phase taking place in Yahuma comes as part of a campaign against measles which stretches back to March 2003 and has so far covered 431,285 children (97% of the estimated target population of 448,380). The most recently completed vaccination took place in Djolu, where during the months of April and May this year, 140 teams immunised nearly 100,000 children across an area of 17.357km2. Over the next 12 months, children in a further four zones will be immunised. "Yet despite this and a number of other vaccination campaigns carried out across the country, many children are still not covered and thousands die in the DRC every year as a result of this easily preventable disease," concludes Billiet. The vaccination is part of a wider programme in the Eastern and Equateur Provinces which provides primary health care in six health zones. Other projects in the DRC range from tackling sleeping sickness to working with victims of violence.