Sunday December 15, 2019

WHO: Rise of Ebola Epidemic in DRC’s Goma Could be a ‘Game Changer’

Participants at the meeting agree on the urgent need to stop the Ebola virus now

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A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center on July 15, 2019 in Goma. VOA

The head of the World Health Organization warns the spread of Ebola to a large city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could have dire consequences. The WHO chief spoke Monday at a high-level meeting that examined current efforts to contain the growing Ebola epidemic in Congo.

The Ebola outbreak in Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is the second largest after the historic 2014 epidemic that killed 11,300 people in West Africa. As the first anniversary of the DRC epidemic draws near, the WHO reports nearly 2,500 people have been infected with the virus and 1,665 people have died.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the effort to stop the spread of the disease has received another blow with the news that the first case of Ebola had been detected in the eastern Congolese city of Goma.

He says WHO was informed Sunday that a pastor who had traveled from Butembo was infected with the deadly virus.

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World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (R) listens to a delegate at the end of a meeting organised the United Nations on the Ebola disease in DRC, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. VOA

“The identification of the case in Goma could potentially be a game changer in this epidemic,” he said. “Goma is a city of two million people, near the border with Rwanda, and is a gateway to the region and the world.  We are confident in the measures we have put in place and hope that we will see no further transmission of Ebola in Goma.”

But Tedros agrees he cannot be sure of that.  And, so, he says he will reconvene a WHO Emergency Committee as soon as possible to determine whether Ebola in the DRC poses a global health threat.

The co-chair of this high-level conference, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, considers a lack of funding and eastern Congo’s dangerous security environment to be the two biggest threats to the anti-Ebola campaign.

Recently, two Ebola responders were murdered in their home in the Congolese city of Beni. On the financial front, he notes less than half of the money needed to run the Ebola containment operation has been received, leaving a funding gap of $50 million.

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FILE – Mwamini Kahindo, an Ebola survivor working as a caregiver to babies who are confirmed Ebola cases, holds an infant outside the red zone at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo, DRC, March 25, 2019. VOA

Lowcock warns it will not be possible to get to zero cases unless there’s a big upturn in the response.

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“If we do not get an increase in the funding available, treatment centers are going to close,” he said. “There will be fewer teams to conduct training or to give life-saving vaccinations.  There will be fewer mobile teams available to immediately investigate, isolate, treat and trace each new case no matter where the disease pops up.”

Participants at the meeting agree on the urgent need to stop the Ebola virus now. They say Goma is a warning that will test the health community’s response, preparedness and ultimate ability to prevent further cases of Ebola in that big urban center. (VOA)

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Congo: Volatile Security Situation Stymies Efforts to End Ebola

The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

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Congo, Security, Ebola
Patients waiting for prescriptions to be filled by the hospital pharmacy sit underneath a sign warning about the symptoms of Ebola, at Kibogora district hospital, near Lake Kivu and close to the border with Congo, in western Rwanda, Nov. 4, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization says that dangers posed by armed groups in two eastern Democratic Republic of Congo provinces are impeding progress in the battle to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.  Latest reports put the number of confirmed Ebola cases at 3,287, including 2,193 deaths.

International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

While that is encouraging, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier says “we are not out of the woods yet.”

“The risk of re-introduction of Ebola into former hotspots remains high and is…contingent on the level of access and security in these communities,” Lindmeier siad. “So, the outbreak has been and is occurring in an extremely complex environment, marked by poor infrastructure, political instability, as you heard, community mistrust of national authorities and outsiders and ongoing conflict involving scores of armed…militia groups.”

Congo, Security, Ebola
International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. Pixabay

Despite a recent decrease in the number of security incidents, attacks on health care workers and facilities remain unacceptably high.  From January to October, the WHO has documented more than 300 attacks, causing five deaths and 70 injuries of health care workers and patients.

And, last week, a health care worker was killed in his home and his wife critically injured.

The DRC has always been an area of high mobility. The armed conflict in the region has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.   But people move around for other reasons as well. Lindmeier tells VOA among those on the move are infected people who could spread the virus.

“Because they were moving, we cannot be too optimistic about ending this soon,” Lindmeier siad. “As I said in the beginning, the weekly number of cases have stabilized over the past few weeks, but we are not, definitely not out of the woods yet and should not cry victory…before we are at the end of this.”

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The WHO notes Ebola hotspots have shifted from urban areas to more rural, hard-to-reach communities.  It says that, plus the extremely volatile security situation, creates additional challenges in hunting down the virus. (VOA)