Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting hold by the United Nations on the Ebola disease in Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting hold by the United Nations on the Ebola disease in Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. Picture: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Goma  — Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) health minister, Oly Ilunga, resigned on Monday in protest at the presidency's announcement last week that it was stripping his team of control over the response to the Ebola outbreak.

Ilunga has overseen the nearly year-long response to DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest in history. It has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 800 others.

But President Felix Tshisekedi's office announced on Saturday that it was assigning responsibility for the response to a multi-disciplinary team that would report directly to Tshisekedi.

In his resignation letter, Ilunga decried "interference in the management of the response" and criticised outside pressure to deploy a second Ebola vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) over his objections.

"It would be fanciful to think that the new vaccine proposed by actors who have shown an obvious lack of ethics by voluntarily hiding important information from medical authorities, could have a significant impact on the control of the current outbreak," he said.

It was not immediately clear which actors he was referring to, but international donors such as the World Health Organisation and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres have publicly called for the use of the second vaccine.

Ilunga says the J&J vaccine has not been proved to be effective and that deploying a second vaccine would confuse people. The company has said the vaccine, which has gone through phase 1 trials, is safe.

The vaccine  being used is manufactured by Merck and has been administered to about 170,000 people.

Reuters