World Health Organization warns Ebola in DRC may spread nationally, internationally

Grant Boone
May 26, 2018

Congo's government, the World Health Organization (WHO) and aid agencies are racing to contain what could be the most unsafe of Democratic Republic of Congo's nine epidemics since it was discovered by northern Congo's eponymous river four decades ago.

Last Thursday, a first case of Ebola was reported in Mbandaka, a Congolese city of around 1.2 million people.

The response to the Ebola outbreak by WHO and its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has emerged as a major concern as ministers like Azar and his counterparts from other nations gather this week for the World Health Assembly in Geneva. Two of the zones are rural and remote, with few roads or other infrastructure.

The urban setting sets this outbreak apart from the eight others that have struck Congo since the 1970s in mostly containable, rural settings.

Mr Azar, the top USA health official, further promised on May 23 that "if it spreads, we will take further actions".

Its appearance in the northwestern river port city of Mbandaka this time gives it a potential clear shot at the capital Kinshasa, a chaotic city of more than 10 million inhabitants that lies downstream. "Today, the increased capacity of World Health Organization to address Ebola outbreaks and its quick response in partnership with DRC mean that the current landscape, as well as the potential role for the US, may be quite different from four years ago".

The latest figures bring the number of people who have died showing Ebola infection symptoms up to 23, after the inclusion of the latest confirmed death, which occurred in the western Iboko region.

The ministry says there are also 13 probable cases and six suspected ones.

"The government had already triggered the community committees so that communities can take the ownership and contribute, and they are going house to house to identify cases and to identify contacts.Starting from the Government leadership, everything is triggered", he said. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa but was effectively contained.

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Mbandaka is the provincial capital for Équateur Province on the border with Congo.

Two of the patients who managed to slip out of the isolation ward in a hospital in the city of almost 1.2 million people are now dead, but the third patient is alive and now under observation. The White House says countries that regulate the price of drugs contribute to higher costs in the USA and keep their own costs artificially low. Those kinds of rumors could profoundly affect people's willingness to be vaccinated.

Ebola, a virus-caused haemorrhagic fever that spreads through contact with bodily fluids, is both highly infectious and extremely lethal.

Three Ebola patients left a treatment centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo after their families demanded to take them to church, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Those infected with Ebola can suffer from severe internal bleeding, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, meanwhile said WHO response teams have been sent to most of the nine surrounding countries to ensure they are sufficiently prepared in case the virus spreads beyond DRC.

A campaign using an experimental vaccine got underway this week, starting with first responders, before moving to any people known to have been in contact with suspected cases, and then on to the contacts of the contacts.

Now comes the challenge of determining who the patients may have come into contact with once they left the hospital in the city of more than 1 million people.

The outbreak's potential for spread within DRC and to surrounding countries has the WHO and other response agencies on high alert, but a panel of expert advisers said last Friday that the situation does not now constitute a global health emergency.

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