Thursday December 12, 2019

Fear of Ebola Virus Brings Border Traffic Between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo to Virtual Standstill

Beatrice Irunga, a 35-year old Congolese trader, says no one can cross the border without washing hands and being checked for fever

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A view of the Poids Lourd checkpoint on the border between Congo and Rwanda, Aug. 1, 2019. VOA

Witnesses say fears of the Ebola virus have brought border traffic between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to a virtual standstill. Long lines and lengthy delays at the border crossings have left many traders frustrated, but officials say health checks are necessary to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

Beatrice Irunga, a 35-year old Congolese trader, says no one can cross the border without washing hands and being checked for fever.

The measures are necessary to prevent people from carrying the virus across the border. But trade-wise, Ebola fears have hit hard.

Jemima Ibrahim, a Congolese trader who sells rice and oil in Rwanda, says the long delays at the crossing are costing her time and money.

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Witnesses say fears of the Ebola virus have brought border traffic between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to a virtual standstill. Pixabay

“The loss is huge,” she said. “We buy goods here in Rwanda. To export them to Congo is becoming very hard.”

Rwandan Claudine Irunga says she owns a shop in Goma, on the Congolese side, but can’t reach it because of the delays.

“I left Goma in the morning,” she said. “My shop is open now, and here they are not allowing us to go regardless of every document you can have. I am so sad. They say the border is open, but just look.”

The Rwandan government estimates that 80,000 people cross between Goma and the Rwandan city of Gisenyi each day.

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The government has not said the border is closed. However, it is urging its people not to enter the eastern DRC, where the Ebola virus has killed more than 1,800 people over the past year.

Dr. Diane Gashumba, Rwanda’s Minister of Health, is encouraging Rwandans not to go to DRC, and instead to find other ways to do their business in the country.

This stance goes against advice from the World Health Organization.

Dr. Kasonde Mulenga Mwinga, WHO country director, supports a flow of people to the member country to be able to address the response that is needed there.

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Long lines and lengthy delays at the border crossings have left many traders frustrated. Pixabay

The Rwandan and Congolese health ministers met Tuesday to discuss measures to stop the Ebola outbreak from spreading.

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Afterward, they said they resolved to enact ways that allow for smoother border crossings while taking “very strong measures to keep the epidemic at bay.” (VOA)

Next Story

Vaccine Alliance GAVI to Invest $178 Million to Create Global Stockpile Ebola Vaccines

Vaccine group announce creation of ebola vaccine stockpile

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There are similar stockpiles for vaccines against yellow fever, meningitis and cholera. Pixabay

The vaccine alliance GAVI announced Thursday it would invest $178 million to create a global stockpile of about 500,000 Ebola vaccines, a decision that health officials say could help prevent future outbreaks from spiraling out of control.

The public-private partnership includes the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank, among others. The funding announcement was made after a meeting of GAVI’s board. GAVI said the investment, which it called an estimate, will be provided between now and 2025.

Since the current outbreak in eastern Congo was identified last August, health officials have immunized more than 255,000 people with a recently licensed vaccine made by Merck. To date there have been nearly 3,200 confirmed Ebola cases, including more than 2,200 deaths, in what has become the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, chair of Gavi’s board, called the creation of the Ebola vaccine stockpile a “historic milestone in humanity’s fight against this horrific disease.” GAVI said “a coordinating mechanism” to decide how and when vaccines will be used will be established with partner organizations.

There are similar stockpiles for vaccines against yellow fever, meningitis and cholera. Those limited shots are doled out to developing countries by WHO, UNICEF, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders after receiving technical advice from others.

Ebola Vaccine Stockpile
A healthcare worker from the World Health Organization prepares vaccines to give to front line aid workers, in Mbandaka, Congo. VOA

The Ebola vaccine stockpile will be available to all countries, but only developing countries will be able to get vaccines for free in addition to support for the logistical costs of mounting vaccination campaigns.

Jason Nickerson, a humanitarian affairs adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said the new stockpile would change how officials respond to future Ebola outbreaks.

“Knowing how many doses of the vaccine exist in the world, and then being able to get a supply of them to high-risk countries in a very quick way, gives us another tool to respond to these outbreaks,” he said.

Earlier this year, the medical charity publicly called for an independent committee to oversee Ebola vaccination efforts in Congo, saying WHO sometimes used arbitrary criteria to determine who would get immunized. It said the fact that Ebola was continuing to spread despite the large number of people vaccinated was a damning assessment of the response.

Containing this outbreak has been complicated by violence and misunderstandings in a part of Congo that had never reported an Ebola case before.

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Last week, response activities were suspended after attacks killed four Ebola responders, including a member of a vaccination team. Multiple rebel groups operate in eastern Congo and the region has been described as a war zone.

WHO has warned continued attacks on health workers and Ebola clinics could undermine attempts to curb Ebola and prompt a resurgence of the disease. (VOA)