Measles kills 32, infects hundreds

At least 32 people have died and 800 others have been infected following an outbreak of measles in the southern Pointe Noire and Kouilou regions of the Republic of Congo, say health officials.

"The total of 32 deaths and 800 cases of measles has not changed," said Hermann Boris Didi-Ngossaki, head of the World Health Organization’s Expanded Programme on Vaccination.

At least 3,000 cases of measles were recorded in a 2006-2007 outbreak.

"These past five or six years we have had many weaknesses in our vaccination system notably in Pointe-Noire. The current epidemic reflects these weaknesses,” said Didi-Ngossaki.

Of the 800 cases recorded, 624 were hospitalized. "It should be noted that 15 percent of the children had not been vaccinated. It’s extremely serious,” said Alexis Elira Dokekias the director-general of health.

The first cases were reported in December 2010 but the disease was neglected following an outbreak of polio at the same time, said Dokekias.

"There were, at first, very few cases of measles and then the disease spread," he said.

The outbreak has been attributed to low vaccination coverage due to poor organization of health services and sporadic breaks in vaccine supplies in 2010, he said.

The sick in Pointe Noire, who were mainly concentrated at Adolphe Sicé Hospital, are being transferred to the Loandjili and Congo Malembé hospitals to decongest Adolphe Sicé.

An intensive 30-day measles vaccination campaign targeting all children aged 6-8 months in the Pointe-Noire and Kouilou regions is planned from 22 June.