23 August 2013

The population of Kalonge, of around 135,000, is spread throughout the province and is often isolated due to the poor state of the roads.
Photo:Juan Carlos Tomasi

In an extraordinary move, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has started a rabies intervention in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo after an alarming number of people were bitten by rabid dogs. With ten deaths reported already, the emergency intervention aims to prevent any further fatalities from this neglected disease.

The targeted response in the affected Lemera health zone in the province of South Kivu involves a team vaccinating people who have been bitten or scratched by a suspected rabid dog and administering post-exposure rabies treatment where necessary.

he organization supports primary care health centres of the Ministry of Health and the general hospital of reference in Cifunzi.
Photo:Juan Carlos Tomasi

Effective treatment soon after exposure to rabies can prevent the onset of symptoms and a painful death. Without treatment prior to the onset of severe symptoms, rabies is almost invariably fatal.

“Rabies adversely affects the poor and vulnerable whose deaths are rarely reported” said Dr Jantina Mandelkow, who leads MSF’s team in Lemera. “Not only are vaccines and immunoglobulin not readily available in the DRC, most Congolese people can’t afford to pay for lifesaving post-exposure treatment, which costs around $250.”

After decades of conflict and instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo, measures to prevent animal to human transmission of the virus have not been implemented. Under-reporting of rabies also prevents mobilisation of resources from the international community to eliminate this preventable disease.

“The current rabies situation now affecting humans in Lemera is exceptional and must be urgently addressed” said Dr Mandelkow. “We’re doing all we can but we urge others to recognise the severity of the situation and commit resources to its containment and resolution.”

Find out more about MSF in  Democratic Republic of Congo