The ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has led to a measles outbreak of “unimaginable proportions,” a research vaccinologist at the University of Cape Town warned this week.
In an article for Africa’s The Conversation, researcher Benjamin Kagina said that efforts to combat the DRC’s current Ebola outbreak have taken such a toll on the country’s healthcare system that many people are not receiving routine healthcare, including vaccination programs. This has led to an upsurge in cases of measles as well as other diseases, such as malaria and cholera.
“A combination of factors – increased violence, growing mistrust towards medical teams in the wake of the Ebola outbreak as well as the diversion of resources to deal with Ebola – have resulted in reduced vaccination coverage in general,” Kagina wrote. “When measles vaccination coverage is low, the disease outbreak is always imminent.”
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) tallied at least 1,500 deaths as a result of the recent measles outbreak, two-thirds of whom are children under five. In a statement last month, Congo’s Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga sought to emphasize the importance of vaccination and pledged to enact health campaigns aimed at vaccinating millions of children.
“Vaccination is the only public health intervention that is capable of putting an end to the measles epidemic,” he added in a statement. “To stop the chain of measles transmission and prevent future epidemics, at least 95 percent of the population”
Kagina reiterated the point, arguing that vaccinations are key to reducing rates of mortality:
A key lesson must be learned from the loss of thousands of children’s lives in the DRC due to measles. Vaccine programs in Africa are vulnerable to crises, yet, these immunization programs are a key strategy to reducing infant mortality.
African leaders have endorsed the regional immunization strategic plan, in recognition of the vaccination benefits. But they need to go further: they must urgently develop effective policies that can mitigate the negative effects of crises on vaccination programs in the future.”
More than 1,000 people have also died as a result of the current Ebola outbreak, as medical authorities struggle to control the epidemic as a result of the country’s continuing instability. Rebel groups such as Islamic State and the Allied Democratic Forces are vying for territory in the conflict-stricken country, both of whom are fighting to overthrow the government and create their own version of Islamist state.