Tuesday November 13, 2018

Ebola Treatment Gets New Hope, Faces Old Hurdles In Congo

In the district of Ndindi, in Beni, Ebola is spreading due to the community's reluctance to cooperate with health workers.

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Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA
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When Esperance Nzavaki heard she was cured of Ebola after three weeks of cutting-edge care at a medical centre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, she raised her arms to the sky with joy and praised the Lord.

Her recovery is testament to the effectiveness of a new treatment, which isolates patients in futuristic cube-shaped mobile units with transparent walls and gloved access, so health workers no longer need to don cumbersome protective gear.

“I started to feel sick, with a fever and pain all over my body. I thought it was typhoid. I took medicine but it didn’t work,” Nzavaki told Reuters in Beni, a city of several hundred thousand, where officials are racing to contain the virus.

“Then an ambulance came and brought me to hospital for Ebola treatment. Now I praise God I’m healed.”

Ebola
Ebola Virus. Wikimedia Commons

The fight against Ebola has advanced more in recent years than in any since it was discovered near the Congo River in 1976. When the worst outbreak killed 11,300 people in West Africa in 2013-2016, there was no vaccine and treatment amounted to little more than keeping patients comfortable and hydrated.

Now there’s an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck which already this year helped quash an earlier outbreak of this strain of the virus on the other side of the country in under three months. And there are the cube treatment centers, pioneered by the Senegal-based medical charity, ALIMA.

“With this system … where there are not people donning masks, the patients feel reassured and perceive that there is life here,” said Claude Mahoudeau, ALIMA’s coordinator for the Ebola outbreak in Beni.

In addition, three experimental treatments have been rolled out for the first time, offering patients additional reason to hope that their diagnosis is not a death sentence.

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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

Yet even the smartest science can do little about the marauding rebel groups and widespread fear and mistrust that could yet scupper efforts to contain Congo’s tenth outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever.

The latest outbreak is so far believed to have killed 90 people since July and infected another 40.

The stakes are high, not just for health reasons. Ebola could complicate Congo’s first democratic change of power, the holding of a Dec. 23 election to replace President Joseph Kabila that is already two years late.

Rebellion, fear, mistrust

The affected North Kivu and Ituri provinces have been a tinder box of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s. Some areas near the epicenter require armed escorts to reach because of insecurity. Two South African peacekeepers there were wounded in a rebel ambush last week.

And last week, authorities confirmed the first death from Ebola in the major trading hub of Butembo, a city of almost a million people near the border with Uganda, dampening hopes that the virus was being brought under control.

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Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference after an emergency committee meeting on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, VOA

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 60 of its experts had arrived in the city and that a mobile laboratory had started testing samples.

Insecurity aside, the biggest challenges the government faces could be panic and downright denial, as they were during the catastrophic West Africa outbreak.

“Ebola does not exist in Beni,” resident Tresor Malala said, shaking his head. “For a long time, people got sick with fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and they healed. Now someone gets a fever, they get sent to the Ebola treatment center and then they die.”

Taxi driver Mosaste Kala was equally skeptical: “The only people dying are the ones going to the … treatment center.”

Tackling these perceptions will be crucial if authorities are to halt the epidemic.

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A family sits outside in a neighborhood where three people died of Ebola in Mbandaka, Congo,
VOA

At a news conference on Saturday, Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga acknowledged that “community resistance is the first challenge to the response to the epidemic.”

In the district of Ndindi, in Beni, Ebola is spreading due to the community’s reluctance to cooperate with health workers, the ministry says. Some locals have hidden sick relatives or refused to be vaccinated.

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

The problem, says school teacher Alain Mulonda, many of whose pupils were being kept at home by anxious parents, is that locals have little understanding of Ebola.

“If the population of Beni continues to show this distrust,” he said, “this disease will consume the whole town.” (VOA)

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Parliament In Sri Lanka Gets Dissolved, President Calls For Election

The U.S. State Department tweeted that it is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

ri Lanka’s president dissolved Parliament and called for elections on Jan. 5 in a bid to stave off a deepening political crisis over his dismissal of the prime minister that opponents say is unconstitutional.

An official notification signed by President Maithripala Sirisena announced the dissolution of Parliament effective midnight Friday. It said the names of candidates will be called before Nov. 26 and the new Parliament is to convene Jan. 17.

Sri Lanka has been in a crisis since Oct. 26, when Sirisena fired his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa. Both say they command a majority in Parliament and had been expected to face the 225-member house Wednesday after it was suspended for about 19 days.

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Sri Lanka’s sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe holds a copy of the constitution of Sri Lanka as he attends a media briefing at his official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Foreign Minister Sarath Amunugama told The Associated Press Saturday that the reason for the president to dissolve Parliament was the need to go to the people to find a resolution to the crisis.

“On the 14th there was to be a lot of commotion and unparliamentary activities sponsored by the speaker,” Amunugama said. “The speaker was not planning to act according to the constitution and standing orders of Parliament.”

Sirisena’s supporters had been irked by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s announcement that he was going to call for a vote for either party to prove their support.

Miscalculation

“The dissolution clearly indicates that Mr. Sirisena has grossly misjudged and miscalculated the support that he might or could secure to demonstrate support in the Parliament,” said Bharath Gopalaswamy, director at U.S.-based analyst group Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. “At the end of the day, he is a victim of his own homegrown crisis.”

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Sri Lankan civil rights activists hold placards during a demonstration outside the official residence of ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Wickremesinghe has insisted his firing is unconstitutional. He has refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament be summoned immediately to prove he had support among its members.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe repeatedly denied.

Sirisena was critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war against a Tamil separatist group, which ended in 2009. Rajapaksa, who ruled as president from 2005 to 2015, is credited as a hero by the ethnic Sinhalese majority for winning the conflict. But he lost a re-election bid in 2015 amid accusations of nepotism, corruption and wartime atrocities.

Constitutional question

Wickremesinghe’s camp is likely to contest Sirisena’s move because of constitutional provisions stating a Parliament can’t be dissolved until 4 ½ years after its election. The current Parliament was elected in August 2015.

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Sri Lankan former President Mahinda Rajapakse addresses journalists at his residence in Colombo, Sept. 22, 2018. Rajapakse has been appointed the Sri Lanka’s new prime minister. VOA

“It’s totally unconstitutional,” said Harsha de Silva, a member of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party and a former minister. “Sirisena has relegated the constitution to toilet paper. We will fight this dictator to the end.”

The party said in a Twitter message that it will meet the elections commissioner to discuss the constitutionality of Sirisena’s move.

US urges caution

The U.S. State Department tweeted that it is deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, “further deepening the political crisis.”

Also Read: Once a Hostage, Sri Lankan Sailor Now Helps Battle Somali Pirates

“As a committed partner of Sri Lanka, we believe democratic institutions and processes need to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity,” the statement said.

Earlier, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and two other lawmakers wrote to Sirisena warning that actions circumventing the democratic process could impact U.S. assistance, including a planned five-year aid package from the Millennium Challenge Corporation worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (VOA)