June 11, 2019 / 6:56 PM / 6 days ago

Congo declares measles epidemic after it kills more than Ebola

(This June 11 story corrects to show 65,000 cases were last year, while this year has seen 87,000 cases, paragraph 2)

DAKAR (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s government has declared an epidemic of measles, which the latest health ministry figures show has now killed at least 1,500 people, more than a hundred more than have died of Ebola.

While health officials have focused on the hemorrhagic Ebola virus in Congo’s east, about 87,000 suspected measles cases have been reported across the country so far this year, more than the 65,000 recorded in the whole of last year.

Congo’s health ministry announced the measles figure when it declared the epidemic on Monday.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Tuesday that 1,500 deaths from measles had been recorded in the first five months of 2019, the highest since 2012, which was the deadliest measles epidemic of the last decade.

Ebola has so far killed 1,390 people in Congo’s North Kivu province, the latest Congo health ministry figures show.

MSF called for “a massive mobilization of all relevant national and international organizations in order to vaccinate more children and treat patients” affected by measles.

The health ministry said its vaccination campaign would target a further 1.4 million infants, and that 2.2 million had been vaccinated in April.

Health officials say comprehensive vaccination programs are the only way to prevent measles spreading out of control, but say ill-informed opposition can sometimes scupper such plans.

The United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign #VaccinesWork in April to counter a backlash against vaccination by some parents in different parts of the world.

Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Edmund Blair

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