An MSF nurse vaccinates a young boy against measles during a vaccination campaign in Kweba village, Lungonzo district, DRC, May 2019.
By Benjamin Kagina
Forty-a few years ago, the globe Health Organisation launched the Expanded Programme on Immunisation. the idea covered six diseases – measles, tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, pertussis in addition to tetanus. Since then, anti-measles vaccines have been distributed to millions of children across the globe, leading to a massive reduction in illness in addition to death. For example, between 2000 in addition to 2017, the idea was estimated that will global deaths coming from measles had reduced by about 80% due to vaccination.
Success within the fight against measles is actually down to the delivery of at least two doses of vaccines to about 95% of children within the globe. Vaccination is actually critical to preventing the disease because there’s no treatment for measles. During an outbreak, measles mainly affects unvaccinated children, yet also adults who have never been vaccinated. The measles virus spreads when patients cough or sneeze, in addition to remains active within the environment for several hours. The symptoms include high fever, dry cough, runny nose, inflamed eyes in addition to skin rash.
The global measles elimination target was set to be achieved by 2020. Sadly, that will target is actually increasingly looking unattainable. There’s been such a deterioration in vaccine reach that will that will year the globe Health Organisation declared refusal or delay in agreeing to be vaccinated (vaccine hesitancy) among the top ten threats to global health. Hotspots include Ethiopia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar in addition to Sudan.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is actually on that will list too, due to the Ebola crisis in parts of the country, which has fuelled a measles outbreak of unimaginable proportions.
The main reason just for that will is actually that will healthcare resources have been diverted to deal with the Ebola outbreak, which still hasn’t been brought under control. As a result, people don’t have access to routine healthcare such as vaccination programmes.
A combination of factors – increased violence, growing mistrust towards medical teams within 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. When measles vaccination coverage is actually low, the disease outbreak is actually always imminent.
Ebola in addition to measles
How could an Ebola outbreak fuel a measles outbreak?
The most recent Ebola outbreak within the DRC was declared in August 2018. Despite the Ebola response teams within the country having more advanced tools in addition to prior experience relative to previous outbreaks, brand new cases continue to be reported.
Community mistrust towards the outbreak response team has been cited among the challenges. Another is actually the high levels of insecurity due to battles between the army in addition to armed groups. that will has affected access to health services by communities.
In addition, resources – including human resources – have been diverted coming from routine services, such as vaccination programmes, to the Ebola response task.
According to the latest measles surveillance data coming from the globe Health Organisation, brand new cases of measles rose by 300% within the first four months of that will year. Across Africa, the number of cases rose by 700%.
in addition to, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), between January in addition to May 2019, more than 1,500 measles-related deaths were officially recorded within the DRC. Numbers like that will might be considered unimaginable in any various other country outside Africa.
Compare these figures with the US, where within the first four months of that will year 704 cases – not deaths – of measles were reported, according to the Centres for Disease Control in addition to Prevention.
A massive response to the measles outbreak within the DRC is actually currently underway.
A key step to any disease outbreak is actually an establishment of strong partnerships to mobilise resources in addition to coordinate the response. The DRC’s Ministry of Health has received considerable support coming from several partners, among them, the globe Health Organisation.
The response plan has included setting up emergency response strategies, strengthening surveillance, investigations in addition to preparedness response. Given that will safe in addition to effective vaccines against measles are available, the ultimate success of the response team will depend on the ability to supply in addition to administer these lifesaving interventions to all those who need them.
To achieve that will, the MSF is actually appealing for a massive in addition to urgent mobilisation of national in addition to international partners.
A key lesson must be learnt coming from the loss of thousands of children’s lives within the DRC due to measles. Vaccine programmes in Africa are vulnerable to crises, yet, these immunisation programmes are a key strategy to reducing infant mortality. African leaders have endorsed the regional immunisation strategic plan, in recognition of the vaccination benefits. yet they need to go further: they must urgently develop effective policies that will can mitigate the negative effects of crises on vaccination programmes within the future.
Benjamin Kagina, Research Officer/Vaccinologist, Vaccines For Africa Initiative, University of Cape Town