Measles epidemic in DR Congo
The Order of Malta is assisting the vaccination of more than 630,000 children in the South Kivu province
A vaccination campaign is currently taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to contain a measles epidemic which is putting more than a million children at risk. From 18 to 22 May, the International relief service of the Order of Malta, Malteser International, is assisting the vaccination of more than 630,000 children between six months and 15 years of age in 11 health zones in the South Kivu province. Almost 1,200,000 children in 25 health zones must be vaccinated in the South Kivu province alone to prevent the further spread of the disease. Children under five years are most vulnerable to measles.
The vaccination campaign, which is financed by the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO), is also taking place in four other provinces in DR Congo. Since September 2010, the measles epidemic has spread alarmingly through the country: according to the Congolese health department, until mid-April, 2,493 people in five provinces had been infected with measles in 2011 alone. Seven people have died from the disease thus far.
Malteser International is cooperating closely with UNICEF, which is providing the vaccines, and with local health authorities. “We have 11 teams coordinating a total of 733 local teams which are going around the villages to inform the population about the vaccination campaign”, reports Christof Ruhmich, programme coordinator for Malteser International in Bukavu. These teams have also hung posters informing about the importance of the vaccine in public places such as churches, mosques, schools and marketplaces. TV and radio spots also announce where and when the vaccination is taking place.
“Maintaining the cold chain is especially important for the success of the campaign”, explains Ruhmich. “For that, we use decentralised, petrol-fuelled refrigerators and hundreds of mobile coolers.” The Malteser International teams have also prepared the local staff in the health care units for the vaccination campaign, and see to it that mothers bring their children for vaccination, that infected patients are treated professionally, and that cases of the disease are carefully monitored.