Kinshasa/Brussels - According to local health authorities, 8,000 measles cases - among which were 100 deaths - were recorded between July and December 2005 in Bas-Congo Province in the West of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 11 of the 13 health zones of the province, the number of cases doubled in two weeks.
The most affected health zones were Kimpese, Nsona and Mpangu in the sanitary district of Cataractes; Matadi and Nzanza in the Matadi district, Seke-Banza and Lukula in the Bas-Fleuve district; Boma and Boma-Bungu in the district of Boma.
Massive vaccination campaign
Confronted to an increase in measles cases among the population, the Kinshasa-based MSF emergency team, put in place both preventive and curative measures.
"Our strategy was to offer free care to sick people as well as vaccination to control mortality linked to measles," explained Laurence Sailly, coordinator of the MSF emergency team.
At the end of December, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the MSF team started vaccinating in the town of Kimpese as well as in the health zone of Nzanza and Matadi. After two weeks, 104,549 children had been vaccinated against measles in 18 sites around Matadi. Our teams also vaccinated 26,147 children in Kimpese, in five vaccination posts.
Well aware that measles is a very contagious disease, parents have rushed to vaccination posts with their children. On some sites, the affluence was so huge that coverage reached 80% on the first day. In the town of Matadi, many children came from surrounding villages, from the town of Boma and even from neighbouring Angola to get vaccinated. Even after the end of the campaign, parents kept on coming with their children.
Specific wards in health structures
In the health structures of Kimpese, Matadi and Nzanza., MSF opened wards destined solely to the isolation and free treatment of the sick. This succeeded in attracting to hospitals people who were being treated at home. In total, MSF took care of 852 patients - 321 in Kimpese, 427 in Kiamvu and 104 in Kinkanda. This allowed a steep reduction of the mortality linked to measles. Since the MSF intervention started, eight deaths were recorded in Kimpese and two in Matadi.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes too late.
"Some children die because they arrive too late to get treated. 75% of recorded deaths are children who have succumbed following anaemia or dehydration less than 24 hours after their admission" explained Dr Leon Tabaro from MSF. "Many families first try traditional medicine before they go to health structures because they don't have enough money and because they lack information".
Bas-Congo is one of the provinces where the Congolese government is set to launch a massive measles vaccination campaign in 2006. Although vaccination and curative measures undertaken by MSF have managed to stop the epidemic in the zones of Kimpese, Matadi and Nzanza, measles cases are nevertheless on the increase in other zones such as Boma, Seke-Banza, Lukula and Mbanza-Manteke. It is therefore crucial that the planned vaccination campaign becomes a reality very soon in the province.