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Mass vaccination campaign against measles begins in Ebola-affected DR Congo province

UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, said Thursday it aims to vaccinate 67,000 children in Ituri province.

They represent only a small fraction of the 400,000 displaced by the resurgence of community violence and clashes between government forces and non-state armed groups in the resource-rich region.

According to UNICEF, nearly 2,000 people have died of measles in the DRC since the beginning of the year, more than two thirds of whom are children under five years old.

The latest health data in the DRC indicates about 115,000 suspected cases of measles in the country, well above the 65,000 recorded last year.

Ebola complicates the protection of vulnerable people

Attacking the measles outbreak is complicated by the fact that its symptoms – fever, redness around the eyes, diarrhea – are similar to those seen by patients with Ebola.

On Wednesday, the DRC authorities announced that 1,646 people had been killed since the beginning of last August in the latest Ebola outbreak – affecting Ituri and the neighboring North Province. Kivu – and that 683 people have recovered.

To prevent Ebola virus infection, measles vaccinators should wear a surgical gown to avoid contact with blood or other body fluids that carry the deadly hemorrhagic disease.

The focus is initially on "unhealthy" camps for the displaced

At the launch of the measles vaccination campaign in Ituri, the UN agency announced that it would initially protect 27,000 children living in overcrowded camps in Bunia, the largest city in the province. , and in its surroundings.

Many of them have been displaced in recent months by multiple attacks and counter-attacks involving Hema herders and Lendu farmers, as well as clashes between Congolese armed forces and non-state actors.

"The combined threat of Ebola and measles for the thousands of families living in overcrowded and unhealthy displacement camps is unprecedented," said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF's representative in the DRC.

Ituri is home to 35 camps throughout the province, says UNICEF.

Insecurity makes the area "virtually inaccessible"

A large number of their residents are far from treatment centers, the UN agency added in a statement, noting that armed groups had destroyed up to half of the health facilities on a territory "practically inaccessible" due to insecurity.

"The northeastern DRC is the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises of today," said Beigbeder. "Whether it's measles, the Ebola virus or the reality of living in an IDP camp, children are at serious risk. We must do everything in our power to protect them.

Measles campaigns are also planned in the health zones of Tchomia and Nyankunde, elsewhere in Ituri.

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