File Photo: A health worker wearing Ebola protection gear walks before entering the Biosecure Emergency Care Unit (CUBE) at the ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action) Ebola treatment centre in Beni, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, March 30, 2019. (Xinhua/REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS, July 11 (Xinhua) -- Health workers are urgently rolling out a complex measles vaccination campaign targeting 67,000 children in Ituri province in northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), said the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Thursday.
The region is ravaged by armed conflict and is now also the hub of the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak.
At least 1,981 deaths due to measles have been reported across the DRC this year, over two-thirds of them among children below 5 years old, UNICEF said, adding as of June 23, nearly 115,000 cases of suspected measles had been reported, far more than the 65,000 recorded in all of 2018.
Ituri was struck also by Ebola which broke out in the country nearly a year ago. The province has recorded over 5,400 cases and 50 deaths.
"The combined threat of Ebola and measles for the thousands of families living in overcrowded and unsanitary displacement camps is unprecedented," said UNICEF DRC Representative Edouard Beigbeder. "We have a small window to prevent a potentially massive loss of life."
The first sites targeted for measles vaccinations are four displacement camps in Bunia, which have seen a huge influx of families forcibly uprooted by fighting in recent weeks, UNICEF said on its website.
The Ebola outbreak means the measles vaccination campaign must incorporate extra measures to protect against infection and meticulous triage. Health workers will need to wear gowns to prevent contact with blood or other body fluids.
Teams will include an additional health worker who will evaluate and refer suspected Ebola cases, check temperatures and oversee handwashing and other safety measures.
Up to 400,000 people are thought to be internally displaced across Ituri, the vast majority of them women and children. Fighting among various armed groups has damaged or destroyed up to half the health facilities and schools in the province, according to UNICEF.
"The northeastern part of DRC is home to one of the worst humanitarian crises today. Whether it is from measles, Ebola, or the reality of living in a displacement camp, children are at grave risk. We must do everything we can to protect them," Beigbeder said.