Since mid-2018, a massive measles outbreak has been ravaging through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The outbreak was belatedly declared in June 2019 and has turned into the biggest measles outbreak of the past ten years in DRC and the biggest currently active worldwide.
Over 310,000 people have been infected and more than 6,000 have died over the past year alone – three quarters of the deceased are children. This case fatality rate, hovering around 2%, is twice as high as it was in measles outbreak in previous years. All 26 provinces of the country have been affected by the outbreak.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams are working in various areas of DRC to participate to the response; at different times over the past two years, they have been active in patient care, vaccination campaigns to prevent the spread of the disease and surveillance activities to identify new areas of the epidemic and start the intervention as early as possible. They have set up dedicated facilities such as the laboratory opened at the end of 2019 in Lumbubashi, south-eastern DRC, in order to ensure a faster, more effective turnaround of lab analyses.
An MSF team is currently working in the province of Kongo Central, one of the main hotspots of the epidemic today. The intervention in this area began in December 2019 and has been targeting the health zones (currently four) where the highest numbers of cases of measles have been reported. The team is providing care for complicated cases in dedicated treatment centres, supporting local health centres to deal with non-complicated cases, contributing to surveillance and facilitating transfers of patients to health care facilities. Some of the main challenges we face are the complications linked with associated diseases (such as malaria or malnutrition), which increase the risk of mortality, and gaining access to remote, hard-to-reach areas.