Race to halt spread of deadly Ebola virus in Congo

UN health body con­venes emer­gency meet­ing af­ter first ur­ban case in coun­try Ex­per­i­men­tal but highly ef­fec­tive vac­cine be­ing de­ployed against virus

The Irish Times - - World News -

Con­golese and UN of­fi­cials were yes­ter­day rac­ing to pre­vent an Ebola out­break from spread­ing in Congo, work­ing out the lo­gis­tics of keep­ing newly arrived vac­cines well be­low freez­ing in a hot re­gion on the Equa­tor with un­re­li­able power.

World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) spokesman Chris­tian Lind­meier said the UN body would con­vene an emer­gency com­mit­tee meet­ing to­day to con­sider the in­ter­na­tional risks.

This is Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s ninth epi­demic since the dis­ease was iden­ti­fied in the 1970s, but also its most alarm­ing be­cause of the risk of trans­mis­sion via reg­u­lar river trans­port to the cap­i­tal Kinshasa, a city of 10 mil­lion.

A fridge

An ex­per­i­men­tal but highly ef­fec­tive vac­cine is be­ing de­ployed against the virus, with health work­ers be­ing vac­ci­nated first, but it needs to be kept 80 de­grees be­low freez­ing in a hu­mid re­gion where day­time tem­per­a­tures hover around 30 de­grees. “For now, the cold chain is guar­an­teed at mi­nus 80 de­grees until Kinshasa,” health min­is­ter Oly Ilunga told Reuters.

“There is a fridge that will be pre­pared in Mban­daka and that will be at mi­nus 80.”

“This vac­cine is no longer ex­per­i­men­tal. The ef­fec­tive­ness has been proven and val­i­dated,” he added. “Now that we are fac­ing the Ebola virus we must use all the re­sources we have.”

The WHO ex­pert com­mit­tee will de­cide whether to de­clare a “pub­lic health emer­gency of in­ter­na­tional con­cern”, which would trig­ger more in­ter­na­tional in­volve­ment, Mr Lind­meier said.

Emer­gency com­mit­tees have been set up to ad­vise on past out­breaks such as the 2016 Zika epi­demic in Latin Amer­ica and the huge west African Ebola out­break that killed at least 11,300 peo­ple in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016. The Kinshasa gov­ern­ment re­ported the out­break on May 8th, one day af­ter two sam­ples tested pos­i­tive, and within days the WHO was send­ing ex­perts, pre­par­ing a he­li­copter “air bridge” to the site, and plan­ning a vac­ci­na­tion campaign.

There have al­ready been 44 sus­pected, prob­a­ble or con­firmed cases of Ebola, and 23 peo­ple have died. Po­ten­tially most wor­ry­ing is a con­firmed case in the city of Mban­daka, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about one mil­lion.

Con­firmed cases

“The ar­rival of Ebola in an ur­ban area is very con­cern­ing and WHO and part­ners are work­ing to­gether to rapidly scale up the search for all con­tacts of the con­firmed case in the Mban­daka area,” said WHO re­gional di­rec­tor for Africa Mat­shidiso Moeti in a state­ment.

Mban­daka is also con­nected via the Congo river to Kinshasa, a crowded city where mil­lions live in un­san­i­tary slums not con­nected to a sewer sys­tem. Sev­eral pub­lic boats a day head from there down­stream over the river to the cap­i­tal.

They are so over­loaded with peo­ple that they some­times top­ple over, toi­lets are filthy and wa­ter for wash­ing ab­sent.

The other Ebola cases were spread across sites in re­mote ar­eas where the dis­ease might not travel quickly. Al­ready the WHO has warned that there is a “moder­ate” re­gional risk be­cause the dis­ease could travel along the river to Cen­tral African Repub­lic and Congo Repub­lic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.