KINSHASA, 27 February 2013 (IRIN) - A measles epidemic has affected tens of thousands of children in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), overwhelming health facilities, says medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
"Most health centres are either not functional, out of medical stocks or inaccessible for the majority of the population. Many children die in their villages because the health facilities cannot provide adequate care," Anja De Weggheleire, MSF Medical Coordinator in DRC, told IRIN via email.
"The disease is extremely contagious and can spread quickly in countries like DRC, which have large gaps in their healthcare system," MSF said in a statement.
Measles mostly affects children and can cause complications including pneumonia, malnutrition, severe dehydration, ear infections and eye infections that can lead to blindness. Despite the availability of a vaccine for the disease, measles remains one of the biggest killers of children.
According to MSF, measles can kill between one and 15 percent of unvaccinated children who contract the disease and up to 25 percent of malnourished or vulnerable groups with limited access to healthcare.
Since March 2012, MSF says it has treated more than 18,000 patients and vaccinated 440,000 children in DRC's Equateur and Orientale provinces.
"This situation is only the latest development in an ongoing epidemic that has affected the entire country since 2010," said Amaury Grégoire, MSF deputy head of mission.
MSF officials said they counted 35 dead children in one of the villages they visited. ko/rz