Saturday December 7, 2019

UNICEF Reports Unprecedented Number of Children in Congo Infected by Ebola Epidemic

Main activities include epidemic control, helping communities strengthen their response to the disease in at-risk areas, and delivering essential services

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FILE - A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. VOA

The United Nations’ Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, reports an unprecedented number of children in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being infected with Ebola and many are dying from this deadly disease.

Children account for more than 700 of the 2,671 reported cases of Ebola. UNICEF health specialist Jerome Pfaffman says more than half of the youngsters infected with this deadly disease are below the age of five.

Pfaffman, who has just completed his third tour of duty in northeast Congo, calls this number unprecedented. He says it is proportionally higher than the number of children who were infected in the 2014 West African outbreak, which affected about 28,000 people, killing more than 11,000.

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A child is vaccinated against Ebola in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

“When I left there were 12 new confirmed cases,” he said. “Five were alive and will have the chance to access treatment, but seven had died in the community. This is bad. Having this number of community deaths means we are not ahead of the epidemic.”

Pfaffman says people living in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces are facing both a public health emergency and a humanitarian crisis, making it particularly difficult to bring this complex outbreak under control.

He says building community trust is crucial for this effort. He says treating children for illnesses other than Ebola is critical. He tells VOA when a child falls ill, the mother doesn’t know whether the child has malaria, measles or Ebola.

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FILE – A woman and her children wait to receive Ebola vaccinations, in the village of Mabalako, in eastern Congo, June 17, 2019. VOA

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“You need to be able to take care of that child, whatever disease it is,” he said. “… By doing that kind of program, we will be able then both to treat that child for whatever disease he or she has. And, also identify quickly the Ebola cases, and refer them and control the outbreak.”

Pfaffman warns it will not be possible to bring this epidemic to an end without greater international support and more resources. He says UNICEF will have to more than triple its budget to respond to this complex crisis, requiring about $170 million over the next six months. Main activities include epidemic control, helping communities strengthen their response to the disease in at-risk areas, and delivering essential services. (VOA)

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Measles Kills 140,000 people, WHO Calls it “Collective Failure”

WHO Decries 'Collective Failure' as Measles Kills 140,000

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A child reacts after receiving a measles-rubella vaccination in Yangon, Myanmar. VOA

Measles infected nearly 10 million people in 2018 and killed 140,000, mostly children, as devastating outbreaks of the viral disease hit every region of the world, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

In figures described by its director general as “an outrage,” the WHO said most of last year’s measles deaths were in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.

“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.

The picture for 2019 is even worse, the WHO said, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase compared with the same period in 2018.

The United States has already reported its highest number of measles cases in 25 years in 2019, while four countries in Europe — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain — lost their WHO “measles-free” status in 2018 after suffering large outbreaks.

An ongoing outbreak of measles in South Pacific nation of Samoa has infected more than 4,200 people and killed more than 60, mostly babies and children, in a battle complicated by a vocal anti-vaccination movement.

Globally, measles vaccination rates have stagnated for almost a decade, the WHO said. It and the UNICEF children’s fund say that in 2018, around 86% of children got a first dose of measles vaccine through their country’s routine vaccination services, and fewer than 70% got the second dose recommended to fully protect them from measles infection.

Highly contagious

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A child gets vaccinated at a health clinic in Apia, Samoa. Samoa. VOA

Measles is one of the most contagious known diseases — more so than Ebola, tuberculosis or flu. It can linger in the air or on surfaces for several hours after an infected person has been and gone — putting anyone not vaccinated at risk.

In some wealthier nations, vaccination rates have been hit by some parents shunning them for what they say are religious or philosophical reasons. Mistrust of authority and debunked myths about links to autism also weaken vaccine confidence and lead some parents to delay protecting their children.

Research published in October showed that measles infection not only carries a risk of death or severe complications including pneumonia, brain damage, blindness and deafness, but can also damage the victim’s immune memory for months or years — leaving those who survive measles vulnerable to other dangerous diseases such as flu or severe diarrhea.

The WHO data showed there were an estimated 9,769,400 cases of measles and 142,300 related deaths globally in 2018. This compares to 7,585,900 cases and 124,000 deaths in 2017.

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In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, the WHO said, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of global cases.

Robert Linkins, a specialist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data were worrying: “Without improving measles vaccine coverage we’re going to continue to see these needless deaths. We must turn this trend around.” (VOA)