No end in sight as pneumonic plague outbreak increases in Ituri, DRC

The main objective of MSF teams is to reduce mortality to a minimum

MSF is very concerned about the weak mobilization of other aid actors in the area, particularly when it comes to active case finding and vector control, two imperative measures that need to be implemented when dealing with this type of situation.

Bunia/Geneva - Since June 2, 2006, medical teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been working hard at providing clinical treatment and monitoring for victims of the pneumonic plague outbreak affecting the health districts of Rethy and Linga in northeastern DRC.

As of June 19, 22 deaths had been confirmed while 144 cases have so far been identified. There are now 12 health zones with a total population of almost 100,000 who have been affected by the plague outbreak. Bubonic plague is endemic in this part of the DRC.

Faced with a constant increase in the number of patients affected by the disease, MSF has deployed teams of medical volunteers in the area who have set up two isolation centers for the treatment of patients in Kwandroma (Rethy medical district) and in Vedza (Linga medical district).

MSF is very concerned about the weak mobilization of other aid actors in the area, particularly when it comes to active case finding and vector control, two imperative measures that need to be implemented when dealing with this type of situation. Pneumonic plague is extremely contagious and is an airborne disease.

"We urgently need all actors present in the field, who have the capacity to conduct active searches for suspected cases and identification of individuals in contact with suspected cases, to mobilize resources", says Jérôme Souquet, Head of Mission for MSF in Ituri district. "Otherwise we could soon be confronted with an outbreak spiraling out of control. We can already note a spread of the epidemic outbreak to new areas in the last few days

MSF medical teams have so far been able to ensure that patients receive proper treatment and monitoring. The main objective of MSF teams is to reduce mortality to a minimum. To do this, and to stop the disease spreading further, MSF needs the active assistance of the WHO teams (World Health Organization) and the Congolese MoH (Ministry of Health) as MSF teams cannot address all these issues on their own.

MSF is also concerned that if rapid control measures are not put in place the outbreak could soon spread to some populations where access is restricted due to some security constraints, particularly around Budza, Djubate, Lailo and Zali, all located in the Rethy medical district.

"An extension of the outbreak to areas where access is rendered difficult could have alarming consequences on the health situation," added Jérôme Souquet.

Since 2003, MSF teams have worked in Ituri District situated in the northeastern part of the DRC. They operate Bon Marché hospital, a fully comprehensive medical facility in Bunia, the capital of the district, and respond to medical emergencies in the region. MSF teams in Bunia include 15 expatriate volunteers as well as 325 Congolese staff.