Friday April 19, 2019

Congo’s Ebola Outbreak Spreading at its Fastest Rate, Says WHO

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever

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FILE PHOTO: Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment center in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019. VOA

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak is spreading at its fastest rate yet, eight months after it was first detected, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever, as militia violence and community resistance have impeded access to affected areas.

Less than three weeks ago, the WHO said the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever was largely contained and could be stopped by September, noting that weekly case numbers had halved from earlier in the year to about 25.

But the number of cases hit a record 57 the following week, and then jumped to 72 last week, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier. Previous spikes of around 50 cases per week were documented in late January and mid-November.

ebola, congo
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid group, cautioned that case numbers were on the rise. Pixabay

Deaths occur outside treatment centers

More alarmingly, about three-quarters of Ebola deaths last week occurred outside of treatment centers, according to Congo health ministry data, meaning there is a much greater chance they transmitted the virus to those around them.

“People are becoming infected without access to response measures,” Lindmeier told Reuters.

The current outbreak is believed to have killed 676 people and infected 406 others. Another 331 patients have recovered.

In the past two months, five Ebola centers have been attacked, some by armed militiamen. That led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities in two of the most affected areas.

Another challenge has been a mistrust of first responders. A survey conducted last September by medical journal The Lancet found that a quarter of people sampled in two Ebola hotspots did not believe the disease was real.

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FILE – Health workers are seen inside the “red zone” of an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked in the early hours of March 9, 2019, in Butembo. VOA

New outreach program

Lindmeier said new approaches to community outreach were showing signs of progress and that some previously hostile local residents had recently agreed to grant health workers access.

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One treatment center that closed in February after being torched by unknown assailants reopened last week.

More than 11,000 people died in West Africa’s 2013-16 Ebola outbreak. Since then, health authorities have worked to speed up their responses and deployed an experimental vaccine and treatments, both of which have been considered effective. (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Might Declare Congo’s Ebola Outbreak an International Health Emergency

Capobianco cited Congolese health ministry statistics announced on Thursday showing 40 new cases over two days this week

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FILE - Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment centre in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019. VOA

A top Red Cross official says he’s “more concerned than I have ever been” about the possible regional spread of the Ebola virus in Congo after a recent spike in cases.

Emanuele Capobianco spoke by phone ahead of a key World Health Organization meeting in Geneva later Friday about whether to declare the Ebola outbreak in northeastern Congo an international health emergency.

ebola, congo
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid group, cautioned that case numbers were on the rise. Pixabay

Capobianco, head of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, cited Congolese health ministry statistics announced on Thursday showing 40 new cases over two days this week.

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He called that rate unprecedented in the current eight-month outbreak.

He cites lack of trust about Ebola treatment in the community and insecurity caused by rebel groups that has hurt aid efforts. (VOA)