The world’s largest measles outbreak has killed more than 4,000 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this year, according to UNICEF.
The agency found that 203,179 measles cases have been reported throughout the country’s 26 provinces since January, according to UNICEF, including 4,096 deaths. Seventy-four percent of infections and nearly 90 percent of deaths have been children under the age of five.
Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2017, there were 110 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five.
Measles vaccination resulted in a 80% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017 worldwide.
In 2017, about 85% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72% in 2000.
During 2000-2017, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 21.1 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
The measles outbreak in the DRC is attributable to low immunization rates due to the country’s weak public health infrastructure. According to the UNICEF:
“We’re facing this alarming situation because millions of Congolese children miss out on routine immunization and lack access to health care when they fall sick,” said Beigbeder. “On top of that, a weak health system, insecurity, community mistrust of vaccines and vaccinators and logistical challenges all contribute to a huge number of unvaccinated children at risk of contracting the disease.”
Two doses of the measles vaccine are recommended and roughly 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization. In DRC, measles immunization coverage was only 57 per cent in 2018.
Emergencies like these are reminders of the unfinished business of state-building in most of the Continent, and not just post-conflict states the DRC.
The death count for Ebola did eventually hit 11,310 globally, and Swine Flu resulted in 18,500 lab-confirmed deaths (and potentially many more). However, most of these outbreaks were relatively harmless in relative terms. The Zika Virus, for example, resulted in only a handful of deaths.
The figures below show the relative intensity of media coverage of specific disease outbreaks versus the actual number of deaths:
This is an interesting graphic showing the initial names giving to syphilis in various jurisdictions.
The WHO recently came out against naming diseases after people, foods, animals, occupations, or places. However, this decision has raised some new concerns. According to Science:
Many scientists agree that disease names can be problematic, but they aren’t sure the new rulebook is necessarily an improvement. “It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” predicts Linfa Wang, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong. “You should not take political correctness so far that in the end no one is able to distinguish these diseases,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn, Germany.
Naming diseases has long been a fraught process. Badly chosen names can stigmatize people, as did gay-related immune deficiency, an early name for AIDS. They can also lead to confusion and hurt tourism and trade. The so-called swine flu, for instance, is not transmitted by pigs, but some countries still banned pork imports or slaughtered pigs after a 2009 outbreak. More recently, some Arab countries were unhappy that a new disease caused by a coronavirus was dubbed Middle East respiratory syndrome.
The WHO estimates that as December 8 Sierra Leone had 7,798 registered cases, overtaking Liberia for the first time since the outbreak started. According to the Geneva-based WHO, the number of cases is still “slightly increasing” in Guinea, “stable or declining” in Liberia and “may still be increasing in Sierra Leone”.