DR Congo insecurity hampers response to measles outbreak

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Insecurity in north-east Congo is hampering a measles vaccination drive and forcing people to flee, local responders said, complicating efforts to control the spread of a virus that killed more people than Ebola this year.

At least 1,500 people died from measles in Democratic Republic of Congo since the start of 2019 according to health authorities, compared with 1,390 killed by an Ebola epidemic in the east.

Ethnic violence between Lendu farmers and Hema livestock herders in Ituri forced thousands to seek sanctuary in refugee camps in the regional capital Bunia. Overcrowding in camps increases the chance of catching measles.

“As they are massed in camps, the rate of contamination is high,” said Doctor John Katabuka, director of Bunia’s main hospital.

Those displaced say they are more vulnerable due to a lack of supplies and appropriate housing in camps, where people wait in long lines for water.

“We need to be split up so we’re not as concentrated as this. It must be done soon or things will get bad,” said Buuma Betseba, head of a Bunia displaced persons camp.

“We will be infected by more than one disease – there is measles and Ebola,” he said.

Health officials focus efforts on fighting the second worst Ebola outbreak on record, about 87,000 suspected measles cases have been reported across the country this year, more than the 65,000 recorded last year, according to the health ministry.

In Bunia, the head of the local health authority, Louis Tshulo, said insecurity prevented vaccination of children against measles in certain areas.

“It is as a result of the poor vaccination coverage in 2018 we fear for the immunity of children and particularly those less than five years old,” he told Reuters.

Last week, the health ministry said its vaccination campaign would target a further 1.4 million infants and that 2.2 million were vaccinated in April.