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DR Congo declares meningitis outbreak in north-eastern province

A healthcare worker vaccinates a child against meningitis in DRC. File Photo

Kinshasa, DRC | THE INDEPENDENT | An outbreak of meningitis has been declared in the northeastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The DRC “has declared an outbreak of meningitis in the northeastern Tshopo Province where 261 suspected cases and 129 deaths, a high case fatality ratio of 50 percent, have been reported,” said the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa.

DRC health authorities have deployed an initial emergency team amid efforts to quickly ramp up the response with the support of the WHO, the statement said.

A crisis response committee has been set up in Banalia, the community affected by the outbreak, as well as in Kisangani, the capital of Tshopo, to speed up control efforts, according to the statement.

“Meningitis is a serious infection and a major public health challenge. We are moving fast, delivering medicines and deploying experts to support the government’s efforts to bring the outbreak under control in the shortest possible time,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

More than 100 patients are already receiving treatment at home and in health centers in Banalia.

“We are scaling up control measures within the community and rapidly investigating suspected cases in surrounding localities to treat patients and curb potentially widespread infections,” said Amedee Prosper Djiguimde, WHO representative in the DRC.

Meningitis is transmitted among people through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from infected people. Close and prolonged contact or living in close quarters with an infected person facilitates the spread of the disease. Although people of all ages can catch the disease, it mainly affects children and young people.

More than 1.6 million people aged between 1 and 29 years were vaccinated in a massive campaign in 2016 in Tshopo, which lies in the so-called “African meningitis belt” that runs across the continent from Senegal to Ethiopia and comprises 26 countries.

Meningitis outbreaks occurred in several DRC provinces in the past. In 2009, an outbreak in Kisangani infected 214 people and caused 15 deaths, a case fatality ratio of 8 percent.

In November 2020, the World Health Assembly, the global health policy-setting body, approved a roadmap for a meningitis-free world by 2030, with three key objectives: elimination of bacterial meningitis, reduction of vaccine-preventable bacterial meningitis by 50 percent and deaths by 70 percent, as well as reduction of disability and improvement of quality of life after meningitis.

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