WHO Declares Meningitis Epidemic in D.R. Congo

An epidemic of meningitis has been declared in northeastern DR Congo, where 129 people have died, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

There has been a “high case fatality ratio of 50 per cent,” with a total of 261 suspected cases been recorded so far, the WHO’s Africa branch said in a statement.

The statement added that the “confirmatory tests carried out by the Institut Pasteur in Paris detected Neisseria meningitis one of the most frequent types of bacterial meningitis with the potential to cause large epidemics,”

Meningitis is an infection of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord, transmitted through respiratory droplets or throat secretions from those infected.

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The disease is potentially fatal and without treatment can cause neurological damage, especially deafness and mental retardation among young children.

Six strains of the meningitis germ are notorious for causing epidemics. However, the early symptoms of the disease headaches and fever can be difficult to spot as they are similar to other common ailments. The epicentre of the outbreak is in Banalia, in Tshopo province.

Health officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo have deployed an initial emergency team there and the WHO is bringing in additional drugs and experts, the statement said.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti revealed steps taken to address the epidemic, he assured citizens that “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,”

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“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 WHO Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dr. Amédée Prosper Djiguimdé, 

In 2016, more than 1.6 million people aged below 30 were vaccinated in Tshopo, which lies in a “meningitis belt” of 26 countries, from Senegal to Ethiopia, that is particularly exposed to the disease.

In 2009, an epidemic in Kisangani, the capital of Tshopo, caused 15 fatalities out of 214 cases.

Bacterial meningitis is treatable with antibiotics, usually ciproflaxin, and preventative vaccines have been available for more than four decades, the WHO says on its website.

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