MSF launches mass measles vaccination campaign in a country ravaged by catastrophic health situation

Goma/Brussels, February 7 2002 - Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today launched a measles vaccination campaign in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that will take about five days. MSF will cover the health districts of eastern Goma, representing approximately 56,000 children between nine months and 15 years.

Over the past weeks, MSF has also conducted a vaccination campaign in Muanda (Bas Congo) targeting 44,000 children of the same age group and 15,000 in the health districts of Ubundu and Lubutu, in the eastern province.

Measles remains a major childhood killer throughout Africa, where about one million children die from measles each year. In countries where measles still take a heavy toll on childhood mortality, mass immunization campaigns can be lifesaving. The risk of a measles outbreak is especially real for an already weakened population. The vaccination coverage in DRC in general is quite limited because of the ongoing war and disruption.

Since the beginning of the year, a measles epidemic infected 825 people in Ubundu and Kabondo (Eastern Province), and 15 people died in two months. In Businga (Equator Province), 72 cases of monkey pox were recorded and seven people died of this particular form of smallpox that disfigures for life.

The Goma population endures today the consequences of the Nyirangongo eruption, which destroyed houses and crops. However, the health situation of the population in DRC has been catastrophic for years, with alarming death-rates, also among children under five, according to a study published last December by MSF (Footnote 1).

The increased mortality in zones affected by war is mainly due to the indirect effects of violence, such an increase in infectious diseases and malnutrition, as violence led to loss of food and basic assets, medicines and services.

Present in the region since the mid-eighties, MSF has different programmes running in eastern DRC to assist with basic health care, nutritional programmes, fighting epidemic diseases, and a sexually transmittable diseases (STD)-aids care and prevention programme.

After the eruption of Mount Nyirangongo, MSF assisted the population by providing medical supplies, shelter and water sanitation material. The team also monitored the health situation, in order to be ready to provide extra support in case of outbreaks of diseases such as measles, cholera or meningitis.

(1) 'Access to Health and Violence in the RDC - Results of five epidemiological surveys', by Dr. Michel Van Herp, Véronique Parqué and Edward Rackley, Médecins Sans Frontières, December 2001.