Thursday January 17, 2019
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North Kivu’s Ebola Operations Resume

The number of reported Ebola cases stands at 608, including 369 deaths.

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Congo, ebola
Demonstrators barricade a road during protests over their exclusion from the presidential election in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 28, 2018. VOA

Ebola control operations have been restored in Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu province, following pre-election protests late last year, the World Health Organization reports.

Anti-government demonstrations preceding presidential elections on December 26 disrupted key Ebola response activities in some affected areas of the province, notably in Beni and Butembo.

Crowds of people, angry at the government’s decision to bar the region from voting in the election, vandalized an Ebola transit center and other health facilities. The damage prevented health workers from going to communities at risk and providing services needed to control the spread of the deadly disease.

Ebola, pregnant women
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

But WHO says full operations have been restored in all locations as of Jan. 1. While the situation is now calm, WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic tells VOA that any interruption could lead to increased transmission of the virus.

“There is a risk that all this work that is being put in place, and WHO has more than 380 people on the ground, alongside hundreds of people deployed by the Ministry of Health and other partners, that this effort may be put in danger if we are not able to go and put response activities in the community,” Jasarevic said.

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

The number of reported Ebola cases stands at 608, including 369 deaths. WHO says no new cases have been reported among health care workers in 2019, leaving the number affected at 54, including 18 deaths.

Jasarevic says it is yet to be seen whether the temporary disruption of Ebola activities prior to the elections will result in an upsurge in cases. (VOA)

Next Story

Usage Of Expired Polio Vaccines Creates a Public Scare In China

Regardless of how harsh the punishments will be, what’s more important is no more faulty vaccines used on their children, many parents said.

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China, Vaccines
A child receives a vaccination shot at a hospital in Rongan in China's southern Guangxi region on July 23, 2018. VOA

A recent vaccine scandal in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, where 145 children were confirmed to have received expired polio vaccinations, has once again exposed the country’s poor vaccine management and lack of systematic regulatory oversight, a former Chinese health official said.

To eradicate such lapses, Chen Bingzhong, ex-head of China’s Health Education Research Institute, calls for a nationwide probe, in which, third-party stakeholders such as parents, lawyers or reporters should take part to ensure transparency.

“There should first be a thorough probe into the cause of the Jiangsu case, which serves as another wake-up call. But who should launch the investigation? Local health departments alone won’t work because they are the ones who cause the problem and should be held responsible. An [unbiased] third party has to be involved,” Chen said.

Expired vaccine probe

Jiangsu police, on Monday, began an investigation after the local government in the province’s Jinhu County concluded that “only 145 children” were orally administered with polio vaccines that expired on December 11, 2018.

And so far a total of 17 officials have been punished, including the deputy head of Jinhu County.

China, Vaccines

The local government has also promised check-ups on all affected children.

Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, blamed the county’s online registration system, which she said failed to alert doctors about expired vaccines or registered the wrong expiration date, according to a Global Times report.

A cover-up?

But many worried parents are skeptical of the official findings and suspect a larger-scale cover-up.

The case came to light on Jan 7 when a parent — a retired hospital worker — discovered that oral vaccine given to her grandkid was nearly a month out of date, according to local media reports.

Many parents, who picked up the news on social media, followed suit to check batch numbers on their children’s vaccination history and found that expired vaccines include not only polio vaccines, but also diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT), hepatitis B and varicella.

And the problem dates back to a decade ago, which is further fueling suspicion that the majority of the county’s 20,000 children under the age of 14 may have been exposed to faulty vaccines. The case in Jinhu is the latest in a string of similar scandals in China.

Late last week, hundreds of anxious parents gathered in front of Jinhu government offices, demanding answers.

Vaccines
A doctor assists people looking for treatment for malaria at a health center. VOA

Violent scuffles

Video footage that has gone viral on the Internet showed repeated scuffles between angry crowds, besieged government officials and squads of mob police, which continued into the night.

Three parents ended up being arrested and local residents have expressed difficulty in uploading videos of the protests to social media.

On Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter in China, some urged parents in Jinhu to stay calm, but many more shared their anger.

“The government’s credibility is overdrawn and the people’s tolerance is being put to the test,” one Weibo user said.

“To be honest, our regulators are all façade with little function,” another complained.

Public outcry

Parents elsewhere complained of governments of all levels’ inaction to address the country’s vaccine problems including appropriate compensations to those who suffer adverse effects.

The Drugs Controller General of India plans to come out with vaccine specific regulatory policy and a manual for regulatory requirements for commercialization of new drug and on how to conduct clinical trials in India, it was announced on Saturday.
To eradicate such lapses, Chen Bingzhong, ex-head of China’s Health Education Research Institute, calls for a nationwide probe, Pixabay

A father from Fujian province surnamed Lin told VOA that the local government there has done nothing to help this teenaged son, who experienced severe adverse effects from vaccines at the age of three.

“They [the Fujian government] keep patronizing me and passing the buck,” he said.

“Two to three years ago, my kid was identified to be suffering adverse reactions from vaccines, which is extremely rare. If the government can help deal with it, we have nothing to complain. But it’s been ten years, the government hasn’t even tried to take up a [responsible] stance, which I find very hard to accept. My child is now in a [brain-damaged] state,” he added.

A series of vaccine scandals in China including years of illegal sales of improperly-refrigerated vaccines and locally-produced substandard vaccines, which respectively came to light in March and July last year, have seriously undermined public confidence in spite of repeated calls for tightened regulation.

Vaccine management law

Wang Yuedan, deputy director of Peking University’s immunology department, however, insisted that the Jiangsu case is an isolated misconduct of local medical staff and the upcoming passage of a law on vaccine management will help address regulatory loopholes.

Odisha
The case came to light on Jan 7 when a parent — a retired hospital worker — discovered that oral vaccine given to her grandkid was nearly a month out of date. Pixabay

To tighten supervision on vaccines, Beijing released a draft Vaccine Management Law this month and is seeking public opinions until next month.

“I believe, once the law takes effect, there will be harsher punishments [on lawbreakers] to prevent such lapses. Among past expired vaccine cases, the punishment imposed on officials [in Jinhu] this time have been the harshest-ever,” he said.

But Chen disagreed.

He asked why many people from local medical staff to regulators in Jiangsu, who are responsible of tracking vaccine flows, have failed to sound alarm bells over expired vaccines?

Also Read: China Exchanged Data With NASA On Its Recent Mission To Moon

That shows a systematic regulatory negligence — serious flaws that legal revisions alone won’t cure if few profit-driven lawbreakers and officials who helped cover up the crisis have been held responsible, he said, adding a nationwide probe will find parents in Jiangsu aren’t alone.

Regardless of how harsh the punishments will be, what’s more important is no more faulty vaccines used on their children, many parents said. (VOA)