More than 20,000 people, mostly children, have been infected with measles in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo
. More than 300 have died, according to United Nations agencies and Doctors Without Borders.
In one village of 500, more than 30 children under age 5 died within two months — a third of all the children in that age group. “Their little graves are still visible in the cemetery,” said Augustin Ngoyi, the response coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.
The epidemic started in February, but as of early this month, the central government in Kinshasa
had not acknowledged that it was underway and deaths were not being officially counted, he said.
Doctors Without Borders has vaccinated more than 300,000 children, but it has been difficult. The vaccine must be kept cold, and two shots, weeks apart, are needed for full protection.
Moving the vaccine to village clinics has been hampered by bad roads and railroads that are seldom repaired and have fuel shortages. Many children in the region already have been weakened by malaria and malnutrition.
Katanga, the country’s southernmost province, has rich copper and cobalt mines, but is poor and underdeveloped. It has a long history of trying to secede from the country, formerly the Belgian Congo and then Zaire. A secessionist group briefly invaded the provincial capital, Lubumbashi
, two years ago.