Humanitarian Health Action

Republic of the Congo: responding to the polio outbreak

Monthly Highlights - November 2010

As of 25 November, 409 cases of acute flaccid paralysis had been reported from the site of the acute poliomyelitis outbreak in Pointe Noire, Kouilou, Niari and Bouenza Departments. Of these 169 have died (crude fatality rate of 41%). Three cases have been confirmed to have been caused by wild poliovirus type 1 and laboratory testing continues. Two-thirds of all reported cases are affecting people aged 15 to 25. Cases are also reported in Brazzaville.

This very high crude fatality rate can be explained by several reasons:

  • Previous vaccination campaigns have targeted children under five. Many young adults did not benefit from the more regular and methodical campaigns of the past years and are therefore not fully immunized.
  • Poor hygiene and sanitation contributed to the rapid spread of the virus. Shortage of clean drinking water in some areas have forced people to rely on wells and boreholes, which are particularly unsafe during the rainy season when latrines are at risk of being flooded.
  • There is a lack of equipment, supplies and nursing staff in the hospitals receiving the patients. Ventilation equipment had to be brought in to provide appropriate care for patients suffering from respiratory failure.

The Government alerted the public to the outbreak and launched an emergency response plan, with the support of WHO, UNICEF, Rotary International and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A round of vaccination was organized in November, covering Pointe Noire and Kouilou, and Cabinda Province in Angola. Two additional nationwide rounds are planned. The first will take place on 3 to 7 December and the second is planned for late December or mid-January.

HAC provided US$ 50 000 to purchase supplies and sent a logistician as operation manager to set up an operations room similar to the C4 (Cholera Control Command Centre) created in 2009 during the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. The operations room is proving very successful in helping to manage the response.

For more information on the outbreak response