Tuesday November 12, 2019

Measles Epidemic on Rise in Congo After Ebola Outbreak

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

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measles epidemic
Democratic Republic of Congo map. VOA

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

While health officials have focused on the far deadlier hemorrhagic Ebola virus concentrated in Democratic Republic of Congo’s lawless east, some 65,000 suspected cases of measles have been reported across the vast central African country. The health ministry revealed 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.

measles epidemic
FILE – A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S. VOA

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 the disease.”

ALSO READ: WHO Says, “About Quarter of Ebola Cases in Congo Going Undetected”

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. (VOA)

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Researchers in Uganda Launch Ebola Vaccine Trial for Two Years

The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company

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ebola vaccine
FILE - A Ugandan health worker prepares to administer the Ebola vaccine to a man in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Eight hundred health workers involved in the fight against the Ebola virus are receiving doses of a two-part vaccine. Researchers who launched a trial this week for a new Ebola vaccine say the new vaccine trial will take two years to complete.

Dr. Juliet Mwanga, director of the Mbarara Research Center, said the vaccine combines antigen — a substance that induces an immune response in the body — from the Ebola virus, a common adenovirus, and the vaccinia Ankara vaccine. The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company.

“This J and J vaccine aims at prevention — primary prevention before you have contact at all,” said Mwanga. “And the other difference, as I said, it has two parts. So, you’re given the first dose, and 56 days later, you get another dose, which boosts your immunity. So, hopefully it works for a longer time.”

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Deo Bakulu has been washing his hands every chance he gets since Ebola reached eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma. VOA

Currently, Uganda is using an Ebola vaccine by the Merck pharmaceutical company, but Mwanga said they need to try out new vaccines, too. Uganda’s move is motivated by its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 1,800 people have died from an Ebola outbreak that began a year ago.

ALSO READ: Medicare Uses Breakthrough Gene Therapy to Cover Some Blood Cancers

Dr. Kimton Opio, the coordinator of the trial, said the vaccine is being tested on 800 health care workers and front-line support workers who meet a few basic requirements. “Someone has to be 18 years and over,” he said. ” Then, of course, they have to be able to sign the  [consent] form. Then they must not have been vaccinated with Ebola before, or they must have not suffered from Ebola before.”

The researchers are hopeful the vaccine, if effective, will help Uganda and neighboring countries that have endured Ebola outbreaks. Uganda has seen no new cases of Ebola in recent weeks. But, health officials have been on high alert since June, when two adults and a five-year-old boy who had crossed into Uganda from the DRC died of the virus. (VOA)