Saturday September 21, 2019

WHO Experts: Ebola Outbreak in Congo does not Constitute International Health Emergency

The recent spike in Ebola infections has seen the number of cases rise to 1206, including 764 deaths

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FILE - Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment center in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019. VOA

Experts meeting in emergency session at the World Health Organization agree the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern.

The experts say the Ebola outbreak does not pose a global threat since the deadly virus has not crossed any international borders. But they warn this is no time to sit back as the epidemic continues to spread. It says efforts to contain the disease must be redoubled.

The assessment follows a warning issued Friday by top Red Cross official Emanuele Capobianco who expressed concern about a possible regional spread of the Ebola virus after a recent spike in cases in the DRC.

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The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid group, cautioned that case numbers were on the rise. Pixabay

The recent spike in Ebola infections has seen the number of cases rise to 1206, including 764 deaths. The current upsurge has occurred in remaining epicenters of the disease in conflict-ridden North Kivu province, notably in Butembo, Katwa, Vuhove and Mandima.

The WHO says these areas have been off limits because of insecurity, seriously hindering the Ebola response. Because of the lack of access, Executive Director of WHO Health Emergency Program, Mike Ryan, says the WHO has fallen behind in starting vaccination rings.

“Vaccination is proving to be a highly effective way of stopping this virus. But if we cannot vaccinate people, we cannot protect them. We can also not get people out to Ebola treatment units. If someone stays in the community with Ebola and begins to have diarrhea or bleeding, they will infect their families. So, getting an Ebola patient to safe and effective treatment center is also very important,” Ryan said.

In the last few days, Ryan says aid workers have been able to get back into these Ebola-affected communities. He says they have been able to begin vaccinations and implement other crucial Ebola-control measures.

 

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FILE – Health workers are seen inside the “red zone” of an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked in the early hours of March 9, 2019, in Butembo. VOA

The current Ebola outbreak is the worst ever in DRC and the second largest recorded after the 2014 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people.

The WHO expert committee recommends scaling up community dialogue and participation of traditional healers to lessen community mistrust and gain its acceptance.

ALSO READ: WHO Might Declare Congo’s Ebola Outbreak an International Health Emergency

Because of the high risk of regional spread, the committee advises neighboring countries to accelerate current preparedness and surveillance efforts.

The WHO is appealing to the international community to support its Ebola-control operation. It says it desperately needs $148 million to keep the operation running until July. It warns it will not be able to end the epidemic if it does not have the money to implement essential programs. (VOA)

Next Story

Researchers in Uganda Launch Ebola Vaccine Trial for Two Years

The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company

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FILE - A Ugandan health worker prepares to administer the Ebola vaccine to a man in Kirembo village, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kasese district, Uganda, June 16, 2019. VOA

Eight hundred health workers involved in the fight against the Ebola virus are receiving doses of a two-part vaccine. Researchers who launched a trial this week for a new Ebola vaccine say the new vaccine trial will take two years to complete.

Dr. Juliet Mwanga, director of the Mbarara Research Center, said the vaccine combines antigen — a substance that induces an immune response in the body — from the Ebola virus, a common adenovirus, and the vaccinia Ankara vaccine. The new vaccine is manufactured by U.S.-based Janssen and Janssen company.

“This J and J vaccine aims at prevention — primary prevention before you have contact at all,” said Mwanga. “And the other difference, as I said, it has two parts. So, you’re given the first dose, and 56 days later, you get another dose, which boosts your immunity. So, hopefully it works for a longer time.”

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Deo Bakulu has been washing his hands every chance he gets since Ebola reached eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s main city of Goma. VOA

Currently, Uganda is using an Ebola vaccine by the Merck pharmaceutical company, but Mwanga said they need to try out new vaccines, too. Uganda’s move is motivated by its proximity to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than 1,800 people have died from an Ebola outbreak that began a year ago.

ALSO READ: Medicare Uses Breakthrough Gene Therapy to Cover Some Blood Cancers

Dr. Kimton Opio, the coordinator of the trial, said the vaccine is being tested on 800 health care workers and front-line support workers who meet a few basic requirements. “Someone has to be 18 years and over,” he said. ” Then, of course, they have to be able to sign the  [consent] form. Then they must not have been vaccinated with Ebola before, or they must have not suffered from Ebola before.”

The researchers are hopeful the vaccine, if effective, will help Uganda and neighboring countries that have endured Ebola outbreaks. Uganda has seen no new cases of Ebola in recent weeks. But, health officials have been on high alert since June, when two adults and a five-year-old boy who had crossed into Uganda from the DRC died of the virus. (VOA)