Congo, WHO race to pre­vent run­away Ebola out­break


KINSHASA (Reuters) – Con­golese and UN of­fi­cials were rac­ing to pre­vent a run­away Ebola out­break in Congo on Thurs­day, work­ing out the lo­gis­tics of keep­ing newly arrived vac­cines well be­low freez­ing in a steamy re­gion on the equa­tor with un­re­li­able power.

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion spokesman Chris­tian Lind­meier said the UN body would con­vene an Emer­gency Com­mit­tee meet­ing on Fri­day 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.

An ex­per­i­men­tal but highly ef­fec­tive vac­cine is be­ing de­ployed against the virus, with health work­ers be­ing vac­ci­nated first, but it needs to be kept at -80º C in a hu­mid re­gion where day­time tem­per­a­tures hover around 30.

“For now, the cold chain is guar­an­teed at -80º until Kinshasa,” Health Min­is­ter Oly Ilunga told Reuters. “There is a fridge that will be pre­pared [on Thurs­day] ... in Mban­daka and that will be at -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, mo­bi­liz­ing re­search and re­sources, 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. Mind­ful of crit­i­cism it re­ceived for be­ing too slow dur­ing that epi­demic, when it took months to con­vene an Emer­gency Com­mit­tee, the WHO is mov­ing fast on Congo’s lat­est out­break.

The com­mit­tee can ad­vise WHO Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus on ac­tions to be taken by Congo and other coun­tries to try to halt the in­ter­na­tional spread of dis­ease with­out un­duly in­ter­fer­ing with trade or trans­port.

(Kenny Katombe/Reuters)

CON­GOLESE HEALTH MIN­ISTRY of­fi­cials ar­range the first batch of ex­per­i­men­tal Ebola vac­cines in Kinshasa on Wed­nes­day.

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