World News

Congo says world's largest measles epidemic is over

KINSHASA (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo said on Tuesday it has ended the world’s largest measles outbreak that has killed more than 7,000 children since it was declared 14 months ago.

Three-year-old Allay Ngandema, who has developed complications after contracting measles, eats lunch with his mother Maboa Alpha in the measles isolation ward in Boso-Manzi hospital in Mongala province in northern Democratic Republic of Congo February 29, 2020. Picture taken February 29 , 2020. REUTERS/Hereward Holland/File Photo

Congo’s response to the epidemic was hobbled by a health service suffering from decades of underfunding, mismanagement and war, but was also overshadowed by an Ebola outbreak in the east of the country.

Health experts say the actual measles death toll could be far higher because many cases go unreported in a country with such poor health infrastructure.

“After several strategies mounted at the ministry level, we have just put an end to this epidemic,” health minister Eteni Longondo told journalists in the capital Kinshasa.

He said an official declaration would be made soon.

In the last year Congo has simultaneously battled measles, polio, cholera, coronavirus, two distinct Ebola epidemics and the bubonic plague.

“The measles epidemic was quietly progressing but was the most deadly,” Longondo said.

The measles virus, contracted when a carrier coughs or sneezes, causes a rash to spread across the body and can result in brain damage, blindness, deafness and death.

Last year the government and aid agencies vaccinated more than 18 million children under five across the vast central African country of 84 million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, some aid agencies said the measles response was too slow because most focus was on Ebola. In June Congo announced the end of the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record, after nearly two years and more than 2,200 deaths.

The relief was shortlived as earlier that month a new Ebola outbreak was confirmed on the other side of the country, which has now killed at least 43 people.

Reporting by Benoit Nyemba and Fiston Mahamba; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alexandra Hudson