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If Violence Persists, Ebola Progress in Congo Will Be Lost: WHO

In Butembo, health workers were unable to give vaccinations or trace people who may have come into contact with the disease — a critical part of preventing its spread. 

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Ebola, congo, fighting
Health care workers enter a house where a baby suspected of dying of Ebola is, during the baby's funeral in Beni, North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dec. 18, 2018. VOA

Progress in fighting Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ebola outbreak, the second worst ever, will be reversed if fighting continues around the disease hot spots of Beni and Butembo, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.

“We have reached a critical point in the Ebola response,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “After an intensification of field activities, we were seeing hopeful signs in many areas, including a recent decrease in cases in Beni.

“These gains could be lost if we suffer a period of prolonged insecurity, resulting in increased transmission. That would be a tragedy for the local population, who have already suffered too much.”

Congo, ebola, fighting
Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

The disease has killed 356 of the 585 people infected during the almost six-month outbreak, and one-fifth of the cases have occurred within the past three weeks, according to a weekly update from WHO.

The epidemic in a volatile part of DRC is now surpassed only by the 2013-16 outbreak in West Africa, where more than 28,000 cases were confirmed.

Congo has suffered 10 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered there in 1976. It spreads through contact with bodily fluids and causes hemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding.

On Thursday, Congo’s Health Ministry said 24 patients fled an Ebola treatment center in Beni when it came under attack by people protesting the cancellation of voting in the eastern city in Sunday’s presidential election.

Ebola, Baby, fighting
A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

“Protests at government buildings in Beni spilled over to an Ebola transit center, frightening people waiting for Ebola test results and the staff who were caring for them. Staff at the center temporarily withdrew and most suspected cases were transferred to a nearby treatment center,” Tedros said.

Health teams in Beni were prevented from carrying out critical field work, including vaccinations, tracing of potential Ebola carriers, and following up on alerts of potential new cases.

Also Read: The Young Miracle: Baby In Congo Suffering From Ebola Recovers

In Butembo, health workers were unable to give vaccinations or trace people who may have come into contact with the disease — a critical part of preventing its spread.

In other areas, the fight against Ebola has continued, and local communities have been generally supportive of the health teams, Tedros said. (VOA)

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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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Vaccine
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.

Also Read-Measles Kills 140,000 people, WHO Calls it “Collective Failure”

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)