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DR Congo’s Children Already Threatened by Killer Epidemics, Now Comes Coronavirus 

FILE - School-going pupils from the Democratic Republic of Congo cross the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the DRC, Aug. 14, 2019.

The U.N. children’s fund warns thousands of children in Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk of dying from epidemics other than coronavirus — a situation that will likely worsen as the spread of COVID-19 threatens to divert scarce prevention resources. DRC authorities have confirmed 98 cases, including eight deaths since the start of the coronavirus.

Children in DR Congo are at the mercy of many killer diseases that are preventable.

Since early last year, the U.N. children’s fund reports a measles epidemic — the worst in the world — has killed more than 5,300 children under five, caused nearly 17,000 deaths from malaria and sickened tens of thousands of children with cholera.

Author of the report Simon Ingram says more than three million children in DRC are not getting the health care they need, exposing them to epidemics. Speaking on a video-link from Cairo, he says more than nine million children in the country need humanitarian assistance.

“This situation is certain to be made worse by the arrival of COVID-19," he said. "The scale of the pandemic in DRC is still too early to measure… Unless public health centers can provide immunization, nutrition and other essential services, the lives and futures of millions of Congolese children will continue to be scarred or destroyed by preventable diseases.”

Authorities have confirmed coronavirus cases in conflict-ridden South Kivu, North Kivu, and Ituri provinces, but note most infections are in the capital, Kinshasa.

Speaking on a video-link from Kinshasa, UNICEF DR Congo Representative, Edouard Beigbeder says COVID-19 not only poses a health threat to children but exposes them to other dangers as well.

He says schools are closed, increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing. He says children, especially in remote areas, face difficulty in accessing essential vaccines and health services.

“Coronavirus will most likely divert the available national health capacity and resources and leave millions of children affected by measles, malaria, polio and many other killer diseases. In the DRC, more children might die of lack of access to services or these main epidemics… than from the COVID-19,” he said.

The report urges the government to allocate a greater share of its budget for vital health care services that will benefit new-born and young children. It also is calling for greater international support to strengthen the DRC’s fragile health system.