Cana­dian vac­cine sent to Congo as part of re­sponse

Windsor Star - - NP - Anne Gul­land

LON­DON • An Ebola out­break in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo has spread from the coun­try­side to a city of 1.2 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, prompt­ing fears of a full-blown health emer­gency. A rapid re­sponse team of doc­tors, nurses and other pub­lic health ex­perts is ex­pected to be sent from Bri­tain in the next 48 hours by Pub­lic Health Eng­land as part of an in­ter­na­tional ef­fort to con­tain the deadly hem­or­rhagic dis­ease. The lat­est out­break was first re­ported 10 days ago in the re­mote area of Bikoro, in the north­west. Now three cases, one of which has been con­firmed by lab tests, have been re­ported in Mban­daka, a densely pop­u­lated city with poor san­i­ta­tion and thinly spread health care.

The lat­est of­fi­cial fig­ures sug­gest at least 44 peo­ple have been in­fected and 23 have died since the out­break started, although ex­perts fear many more cases may have gone un­re­ported. Peter Salama, a se­nior World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fi­cial, said the spread to Mban­daka meant there was now the po­ten­tial for an “ex­plo­sive in­crease” in cases. “This is a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment in the out­break,” he said. “We have ur­ban Ebola, which is a very dif­fer­ent an­i­mal from ru­ral Ebola.” Jose Bara­hona, Ox­fam’s DRC coun­try di­rec­tor, said it was likely the dis­ease had been car­ried from the coun­try­side down the river Congo — the “high­way of cen­tral Congo” — to the city by an in­fected per­son. The river con­nects Mban­daka with the cap­i­tal, Kinshasa, as well as Braz­zav­ille, the cap­i­tal of neigh­bour­ing Congo-Braz­zav­ille.

The au­thor­i­ties al­ways feared the spread of the dis­ease to the city, which is just 128 kilo­me­tres away from Bikoro.

“If the num­ber in­creases in Bikoro it’s bad but it’s not a dis­as­ter. But if these three cases in Mban­daka be­come 10 or 12 then we have an ur­ban epi­demic,” Bara­hona said.

Some 514 peo­ple who may have been in con­tact with in­fected peo­ple are be­ing mon­i­tored while the WHO is de­ploy­ing around 30 ex­perts to con­duct sur­veil­lance in the city.

Henry Gray, Médecins Sans Fron­tières emer­gency co­or­di­na­tor in DRC, said with the spread of the dis­ease to the city the sit­u­a­tion had be­come “most se­ri­ous and wor­ry­ing.”

MSF teams have set up an iso­la­tion zone in the city’s main hos­pi­tal and are build­ing two Ebola treat­ment cen­tres in Mban­daka and Bikoro. Mean­while, the first 4,000 batches of the Cana­di­an­made VSV Ebola vac­cine have arrived in the coun­try and the WHO, in part­ner­ship with MSF and the Con­golese health min­istry will soon start a ring vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram — where a ring of con­tacts are vac­ci­nated around an in­fected per­son.

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