MSF vaccinating 80,000 children in Banalia, DRC

This alert came on April 3, and over the next 18 days, the CEP carried out an evaluation in which they discovered 507 cases of measles - including 10 fatalities - in and around the Banalia health zone.

Over the last 14 days, an MSF team, formed from the Congo Emergency Pool (CEP) has carried out over 40,000 measles vaccinations as part of an emergency response programme in Banalia in the Eastern Province of DRC. The objective of the current intervention is to vaccinate 80,000 children between the ages of 6 months and 15 years.

"This a sizeable campaign even by Congolese standards," explained Dr. Bertrand Draguez, Medical Coordinator for the MSF programme in Kisangani. "Although there are measles all year around in Congo, we have never done a vaccination of more than 20,000 because generally epidemics are localised. But in Banalia, the cases reported were spread over an area of about 100km squared."

The CEP, which is based in Kisangani and forms one part of the MSF Kisangani programme, which also covers interventions in the Lukuto, Kisangani and Basankusu health zones. The CEP team for the Banalia intervention consists of three Congolese doctors, one expatriate logistician, 15 MSF Congolese nurses and vaccination supervisors in addition to around 50 local vaccinators (from the local health centres).

On this occasion, the alert from the health authorities came on April 3, and over the next 18 days, the CEP carried out an evaluation in which they discovered 507 cases of measles including 10 fatalities in and around the Banalia health zone.

Kisangani is the base for a epidemic surveillance system which covers the whole of the vast Eastern Province of DRC. Weekly radio reports from across the province keep the team informed on any outbreaks of diseases including meningitis and hemorrhagic fever as well as measles and cholera.

With over six years of experience in the DRC, the CEP are specialised in emergency interventions of this type. In 2002 alone, the four CEP teams, based in Kisangani, Mbandaka, Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, carried out a total of 15 emergency interventions against whooping cough, cholera, measles and meningitis.

But even for the CEP, the difficult conditions make Banalia a complicated task. The team travels mostly by motorbike, organising central areas between four or five villages (known as 'sites') where the villagers can bring their children for vaccination. "We have done vaccinations in 85 sites so far," explains Dr. Bertrand Draguez, "but although the logistics are not easy, we hope to complete the vaccination in the next 7 days.