Monday August 26, 2019

UNICEF Reports Unprecedented Number of Children in Congo Infected by Ebola Epidemic

Main activities include epidemic control, helping communities strengthen their response to the disease in at-risk areas, and delivering essential services

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FILE - A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. VOA

The United Nations’ Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, reports an unprecedented number of children in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are being infected with Ebola and many are dying from this deadly disease.

Children account for more than 700 of the 2,671 reported cases of Ebola. UNICEF health specialist Jerome Pfaffman says more than half of the youngsters infected with this deadly disease are below the age of five.

Pfaffman, who has just completed his third tour of duty in northeast Congo, calls this number unprecedented. He says it is proportionally higher than the number of children who were infected in the 2014 West African outbreak, which affected about 28,000 people, killing more than 11,000.

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A child is vaccinated against Ebola in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019. VOA

“When I left there were 12 new confirmed cases,” he said. “Five were alive and will have the chance to access treatment, but seven had died in the community. This is bad. Having this number of community deaths means we are not ahead of the epidemic.”

Pfaffman says people living in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces are facing both a public health emergency and a humanitarian crisis, making it particularly difficult to bring this complex outbreak under control.

He says building community trust is crucial for this effort. He says treating children for illnesses other than Ebola is critical. He tells VOA when a child falls ill, the mother doesn’t know whether the child has malaria, measles or Ebola.

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FILE – A woman and her children wait to receive Ebola vaccinations, in the village of Mabalako, in eastern Congo, June 17, 2019. VOA

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“You need to be able to take care of that child, whatever disease it is,” he said. “… By doing that kind of program, we will be able then both to treat that child for whatever disease he or she has. And, also identify quickly the Ebola cases, and refer them and control the outbreak.”

Pfaffman warns it will not be possible to bring this epidemic to an end without greater international support and more resources. He says UNICEF will have to more than triple its budget to respond to this complex crisis, requiring about $170 million over the next six months. Main activities include epidemic control, helping communities strengthen their response to the disease in at-risk areas, and delivering essential services. (VOA)

Next Story

Uganda Begins Largest-Ever Ebola Vaccine Trial to Prevent Disease from Speading

An epidemic across the border in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has killed over 1,800 people

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FILE - Ugandan health workers speak to civilians before carrying out the first vaccination exercise against the Ebola virus in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Uganda has started its largest Ebola vaccine trial to date, health authorities announced Monday, in an apparent effort to prevent the disease from spreading. An epidemic across the border in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo has killed over 1,800 people, making this outbreak the second-deadliest to date, with fatality rates nearing 70%.

The experimental Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be administered to health care professionals, as well as ambulance drivers, burial teams and cleaners. The trial is expected to last two years and cover 800 people in the Mbarara district in southwest Uganda.

Vaccinations have already begun, according to Uganda’s Medical Research Council. There are no licensed treatments for Ebola, but one vaccine, manufactured by Merck, was used effectively at the end of the 2013-2016 outbreak in the DRC and has been used during the current epidemic. Over 180,000 people have received this vaccine.

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As the Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo enters its second year, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are voicing concern. Pixabay

But the supply is sporadic, and vaccine administrators are typically 1,000 doses short of what they need, according to Doctors Without Borders as reported by Bloomberg News. Health professionals have called for the use of both the Johnson and Merck vaccines to maximize the number of people protected from Ebola.

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Some people, including the DRC’s former health minister, opposed the move, arguing that another vaccine with a different administration schedule would stoke vaccine distrust in vulnerable areas. While the Merck vaccine is administered through one shot and takes 10 days to be effective, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires two shots, two months apart.

Aside from sparking anti-vaccine fear, the Johnson & Johnson drug could be difficult to administer in practice, as violence in northeastern DRC hampers disease-control efforts. Neighboring countries have been on high alert since three people died of Ebola in the DRC city of Goma, located on the border with Rwanda and just a few hours from Uganda. (VOA)