Wednesday November 13, 2019

Ebola Epidemic Hampers Global Health due to Lack of Funds

WHO reports it needs $98 million through July, but is running a shortfall of $54 million

People crossing the border have their temperature taken to check for symptoms of Ebola, at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. VOA

An emergency meeting convened by the World Health Organization has decided the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.  However, the expert committee warns lack of funding threatens to hamper the ability to contain the deadly virus.

More than 1,400 people have died from Ebola in eastern DR Congo and more than 2,100 are infected with this fatal disease.  This makes the epidemic in conflict-ridden North Kivu province the second largest after the West African outbreak in 2014, which killed some 11,300 people.

The recent spread of the Ebola virus into neighboring Uganda and deaths of two people prompted the World Health Organization to gather a group of experts to reassess the current situation and challenges ahead.

People coming from Congo have their temperature measured to screen for symptoms of Ebola, at the Mpondwe border crossing with Congo, in western Uganda, June 14, 2019. VOA

However, despite the grim tally and uncertain outlook, Acting Chair of the Emergency Committee, Preben Aavitsland, says the committee agrees the outbreak is a health emergency in the DRC and in the region, but poses a very low risk to countries outside the region.   Indeed, he warns of serious consequences for the DRC by declaring the outbreak a global emergency.

“We risk to see restrictions on travel and trade.  We risk to see airlines stopping their flights to the area,” said Aavitsland. “And, we also risk border closures or restrictive measures at border that could severely harm the economy in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Aavitsland says the committee decided there was little to gain, but much to lose by declaring the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

FILE- An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April 16, 2019. VOA

He says the most serious issue facing the Ebola operation is lack of international support.  He says WHO and the affected countries have not received the funding and resources needed to bring the epidemic to an end.

ALSO READ: WHO Says Ebola Outbreak Not a Public Health Emergency Despite its Spread from Congo to Uganda

He warns lack of funding is hampering preparedness efforts in Uganda and other countries neighboring the DRC.  And, this, he warns increases their vulnerability to the potential spread of the virus.

WHO reports it needs $98 million through July, but is running a shortfall of $54 million.  It is calling on the international community to step up and fill this gap as soon as possible. (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)