Monday October 22, 2018

Congo’s New Ebola Outbreak Is A Great Risk: WHO

WHO reports four of six suspected cases of Ebola have been confirmed in and around Mangina, a town of about 60,000 people in North Kivu.

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Ebola Virus. Wikimedia Commons
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Preparations are being made to send thousands of Ebola vaccines next week to North Kivu, the site of the latest outbreak of this deadly disease.

The World Health Organization says it foresees huge difficulties ahead in efforts to combat the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

North Kivu province, the site of the new outbreak, has been riven with ethnic and political clashes for at least two decades.

WHO’s emergency response chief, Peter Salama, said the operation getting under way in North Kivu will be much more difficult and complex than past Ebola response efforts.

A view of a refugee camp situated in between a school and a Catholic church in Kiwanja, Rutshuru town, North Kivu on May 4, 2018. VOA
A view of a refugee camp situated in between a school and a Catholic church in Kiwanja, Rutshuru town, North Kivu on May 4, 2018. VOA

Salama was at the forefront of efforts to combat an Ebola outbreak this April in the DRC’s Equateur Province.

“On the scale of degree of difficulty, trying to extinguish an outbreak of a deadly high-threat pathogen in a war zone reaches the top of any of our scales,” he cautioned.

WHO reports four of six suspected cases of Ebola have been confirmed in and around Mangina, a town of about 60,000 people in North Kivu. Around 20 deaths have been reported. Salama, however, said the deaths have not yet been confirmed as Ebola cases.

He said laboratory tests indicate that this particular strain is Ebola Zaire, the same one as in Equateur Province. He added that more information will be forthcoming Tuesday when genetic sequencing results are known.

If confirmed, he said it will be possible to use the same vaccine that was used in Equateur. He told VOA that preparations are under way to deploy vaccines to the affected area next week.

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North Kivu, A Province in Congo. VOA

The bad news, he cautioned, is that the Zaire strain carries the highest case fatality rate of any of the strains of Ebola — 50 percent or higher.

“The good news is that we do have, although it is still an investigational product, a safe and effective vaccine that we were able to deploy last time around,” he said. “But, remember last time around — and this is a critical point — we had really large-scale access despite all the logistical constraints to be able to do the contact tracing.”

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Salama said security constraints will make moving around in North Kivu far more difficult. He said 3,000 doses of the vaccine that are in the capital, Kinshasa, can be deployed immediately and 300,000 additional doses can be mobilized at very short notice.

Ebola is a constant threat in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the virus thrives in heavily forested areas. The newest outbreak is the 10th since the first one was discovered in 1976. (VOA)

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Ebola Not A Global Health Emergency: WHO

WHO advised DRC's nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories

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An emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization has decided that the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

The WHO said Wednesday that 216 cases of Ebola and 139 deaths had been reported, and its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee said the outbreak was a matter of serious concern, especially since it is occurring in an area of conflict in eastern DRC. It said this posed problems for health workers who need to move around freely and track people who are infected with the virus and need treatment.

But the committee said that one reason it did not regard the outbreak as a global threat was that the virus had not spread into neighboring countries.

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A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

Committee Chairman Robert Steffan said the international response to the outbreak had been very good. He said WHO and other agencies had achieved quite a lot since the outbreak was declared Aug. 1. In fact, he said the disease was being brought under control in North Kivu province.

The disease is flaring up in another province, and the response is being concentrated in this area, he said, “so we do have some optimism that this outbreak, just like the one in May, will be brought under control within reasonable time.”

Steffan said the committee agreed that declaring an international emergency at this time would hinder efforts to contain the Ebola virus. He said a declaration would have implications for travel and trade, making it difficult for needed experts and supplies to access the affected areas.

Ebola, WHO
A health care worker from the World Health Organization, left, gives an Ebola vaccination to a front line aid worker who will then vaccinate people who might potentially have the virus, in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

However, as a precaution, WHO recommended exit screenings, including at airports, ports and land crossings. But it noted that entry screenings, particularly in distant airports, would have no public health benefit and would be costly.

Also Read: North Kivu And Ituri, Congo To Welcome More Than 80,000 Children In This New School Year

WHO advised DRC’s nine neighboring countries that they were at high risk of having the disease spread into their territories, and it said it was supporting them with equipment and personnel. It said these preparedness activities were expensive and would require substantial financial support from the international community. (VOA)