DRC: Deadly meningitis outbreak spreads in Kisangani
A patient in a Kisangani hospital: Health officials say an outbreak of meningitis has spread throughout Kisangani (file photo)
KAMPALA, 8 December 2009 (IRIN) - An outbreak of meningitis that killed more than a dozen students from the same school last week has spread throughout the city of Kisangani, in central Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said Monday.
The strain of the meningococcal C, which was confirmed last week, had infected at least 100 people throughout the port city on the Congo River, said the Minister of Health, August Mopipi, on 7 December. He visited the city to assess what local leaders have called an "epidemic".
By 6 December, according to hospital officials and the UN radio service in Kisangani, 17 had died from the bacterial infection, all students at the local Maikazo Technical Institute.
"It's a source of hope that this deadly disease remains curable," Mopipi said, adding that more than 40 of the cases had been cured. The minister said the government was working on distributing vaccinations, but warned they could be “prohibitively” expensive.
According to Kisangani mayor Guy Shilton, crisis meetings between hospitals, local government authorities and religious leaders had been organized and an "emergency protocol" had been put in place, providing for the distribution of drugs.
“Once the epidemic is declared, we will attack it in every way possible,” Shilton said.
The first fatalities took place at the Maikazo Technical Institute when nine students from the school died at end-November after being checked into the local hospital. According to the UN, doctors said the patients all had signs of meningitis, but it could not be confirmed. A 10th student died a week ago, and the school was closed down by the state minister of education.
"It's a preventative and temporary measure," said Minister Polydor Latigo, "but we need to investigate the problem safely."
|Once the epidemic is declared, we will attack it in every way possible
Andre Kitenge, a press officer for the UN in Kisangani, said that while all deaths related to the outbreak were from the school, cases in other parts of Kisangani were "prevalent".
Kisangani, one of the largest cities in the Congo, lies in the middle of Africa's "meningitis belt". During the dry season, it infects hundreds more people than the global average of three per 100,000.
According to the World Health Organization, an affordable vaccine is supposed to be on the way, but for poor and densely populated areas such as Kisangani, it still poses a serious threat. An outbreak of meningitis at the beginning of 2009 across the "belt" infected nearly 25,000, according to the UN, and killed more than 1,500.