EBOLA SPREADS TO A CONGO CITY.
Canadian vaccine sent to Congo as part of response
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.