The Democratic Republic of Congo and World Health Organisation (WHO) launched the third phase of the measles immunization campaign on Wednesday, with the ultimate aim of reaching 18.9 million children across the country by year-end.

A measles epidemic in Congo has killed 5 000 people this year, many of them young children, with more than 250 000 suspected measles cases, according to a report by WHO.

Low immunisation rates and high levels of malnutrition have fueled the epidemic and high mortality rates, especially in North Kivu province, which is also reeling from an Ebola epidemic.

Vaccination is most challenging in North Kivu, where 2.2 million people are to be vaccinated in this round, because of high insecurity following armed attacks that make some areas inaccessible to aid workers, WHO said.

According to the WHO, the measles situation for 2019 is even worse, with provisional data up to November showing a three-fold increase in case numbers compared with the same period in 2018.

In 2018, measles hit hardest in Liberia, Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Somalia, the WHO said, with these five nations accounting for nearly half of all cases world-wide.

Eastern Congo has also been marred by growing civil unrest as a peaceful demonstration by residents of Majengo, Goma turned violent after a policewoman shot and killed a 13-year-old pupil near the police station as he was preparing to go to school on Tuesday.

The protest immediately turned into a big demonstration as students from the Northern neighbourhoods of the city of Goma joined to condemn the death. Police reports indicate that they have arrested the police officer who fatally shot the pupil.