DRC and UN teams scramble to stem spread of Ebola virus
Kinshasa — The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and UN agencies are deploying emergency teams of specialists to try to prevent the spread of an Ebola epidemic suspected to have infected more than 30 people.
The latest suspected case was reported on Friday in the northwestern province of Equateur, which Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga visited with officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund.
"We have to pool our efforts quickly and align ourselves with the government response plan to fight this new epidemic effectively," Kalenga was quoted as saying in a joint statement.
The DRC first reported the outbreak, centred on the village of Ikoko Impenge, on Tuesday, with 32 suspected or confirmed cases of the disease, including 18 deaths since April 4. Some deaths occurring as early as January have not yet been linked to the epidemic.
Officials are racing to stop the virus from spreading out of control, as was in West Africa in 2014-2016, when it killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The WHO was criticised for bungling its response to that epidemic, and so has moved quickly this time.
The DRC has had eight Ebola epidemics before, but due to remote geography and poor transport links, these tended to fizzle out rather than spread into a national crisis.
This epidemic’s proximity to the Congo River, a major transport route and lifeline both to the capital Kinshasa and to neighbouring Congo Republic’s capital Brazzaville, makes it more likely the virus could break out into a wider area. The disease, which can cause internal and external bleeding in its victims owing to damage done to blood vessels, has already spread to three separate locations covering 60km or more in Equateur province.
Officials say the immediate risk is to the provincial capital Mbandaka, with about 1-million inhabitants, but the DRC’s nine neighbours have also been put on high alert in case Ebola crosses a border, especially to the Republic of Congo or to the Central African Republic.
The WHO said on Friday it hoped to deploy an experimental Ebola vaccine to tackle an outbreak.