Tuesday February 25, 2020

More Than 2,000 Ebola Cases Hit Democratic Republic of Congo

The Ministry of Health identified virus surveillance, infection prevention, and a high community death rate as continuing challenges

FILE - A priest watches as health workers dressed in Ebola protective suits prepare the body of an Ebola patient for burial at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 26, 2019. VOA

More than 2,000 cases of the Ebola virus have hit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the nation’s health ministry. The 1,346 deaths make it the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health said 539 people have been cured of the virus. The ministry update says the fight against the deadly virus is being helped by improved security and a containment of the disease.

“While threats against the response remain high, the reduction in targeted attacks has allowed teams to catch up with the spread of the epidemic. However, the security situation remains volatile and unpredictable,” it read. According to AFP, five aid workers have been killed by local militia forces.

FILE – Victorine Siherya, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 25, 2019. VOA

Health officials wrote, “The epidemic continues to be contained geographically, thus protecting the rest of the country and neighboring countries. To date, no cases of Ebola have crossed the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the epidemic has not spread to the most risky major urban centers, namely Goma, Bunia and Kisangani.”

The Ministry of Health identified virus surveillance, infection prevention, and a high community death rate as continuing challenges.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies say officials should “reset” the nation’s Ebola response in light of the dramatically rising number of cases.

The IFRC urged community partners to take the lead in handling the problem. “This outbreak will only end when communities are engaged and leading the response efforts themselves,” the release concluded.

Attacks from local militias and distrust of health workers have complicated the response to the disease.

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

The International Rescue Committee writes that aid workers should be willing to put their lives on the line and build relationships with local communities in order to deal with the Ebola epidemic in DRC.

ALSO READ: Ending Ebola Epidemic in Congo Fraught with Security Risks, Says WHO

“Many patients can be cautious and reticent when they find out they’re being screened for Ebola because of fear of the unknown and a process that can be intimidating. That’s why it’s important to engage with the patients, comfort them, and address their fears while providing care.”

The current outbreak is the 10th in DRC’s history. The worst outbreak in West Africa lasted from 2014 to 2016, killing 11,310 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. (VOA)

Next Story

Uganda Begins Largest-Ever Ebola Vaccine Trial to Prevent Disease from Speading

An epidemic across the border in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has killed over 1,800 people

FILE - Ugandan health workers speak to civilians before carrying out the first vaccination exercise against the Ebola virus in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Uganda has started its largest Ebola vaccine trial to date, health authorities announced Monday, in an apparent effort to prevent the disease from spreading. An epidemic across the border in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has killed over 1,800 people, making this outbreak the second-deadliest to date, with fatality rates nearing 70%.

The experimental Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be administered to health care professionals, as well as ambulance drivers, burial teams and cleaners. The trial is expected to last two years and cover 800 people in the Mbarara district in southwest Uganda.

Vaccinations have already begun, according to Uganda’s Medical Research Council. There are no licensed treatments for Ebola, but one vaccine, manufactured by Merck, was used effectively at the end of the 2013-2016 outbreak in the DRC and has been used during the current epidemic. Over 180,000 people have received this vaccine.

As the Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo enters its second year, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are voicing concern. Pixabay

But the supply is sporadic, and vaccine administrators are typically 1,000 doses short of what they need, according to Doctors Without Borders as reported by Bloomberg News. Health professionals have called for the use of both the Johnson and Merck vaccines to maximize the number of people protected from Ebola.

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Some people, including the DRC’s former health minister, opposed the move, arguing that another vaccine with a different administration schedule would stoke vaccine distrust in vulnerable areas. While the Merck vaccine is administered through one shot and takes 10 days to be effective, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires two shots, two months apart.

Aside from sparking anti-vaccine fear, the Johnson & Johnson drug could be difficult to administer in practice, as violence in northeastern DRC hampers disease-control efforts. Neighboring countries have been on high alert since three people died of Ebola in the DRC city of Goma, located on the border with Rwanda and just a few hours from Uganda. (VOA)