HERE in the west, we generally regard measles as an irritant if contracted, certainly not something that can prove deadly. However, an outbreak sweeping the Democrat Republic of the Congo (DRC) shows that is far from the case with more than 5,000 people being killed there this year, 90% of those children under five. Around 250,000 people in the poverty-stricken central African state have contracted measles, mainly due to the lack of vaccines and the trouble distributing it to remote and often war-torn areas.
Fear of the disease has led in turn to attacks on health care facilities as people search for the vaccine with six health care workers having been killed just this year and dozens hurt. The authorities are trying to focus on the worst-hit areas and then work down from there but admit to fighting a losing battle in a country also struggling with an Ebola virus outbreak. The majority of the deaths are from measles-related side effects such as severe diarrhoea and encephalitis that would be treatable in wealthier countries but can often spell death to the poor, especially the very young. Ironically in parts of the west, there is a growing “anti-vax” movement while in the DRC children are dying as there are not enough vaccinations to go around – and also showing how rapidly the disease can spread.