Fresh out­break

Grow­ing con­cern as Ebola in a re­mote ru­ral area of Congo spreads to a city.

The Star Malaysia - - News -

GENEVA: The Ebola out­break in the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo has spread to a city, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO), fu­elling con­cern the deadly virus may prove tougher to con­tain.

The fresh out­break, pub­licly de­clared on May 8 with 23 deaths so far, had pre­vi­ously been con­fined to a very re­mote, ru­ral area in Equa­teur Province in the north­west of the coun­try.

But the UN’s health agency con­firmed that an Ebola case has been recorded in the city of Mban­daka, which lies roughly 150km from the Bikoro area where the out­break orig­i­nated.

“This is a con­cern­ing de­vel­op­ment,” WHO di­rec­tor-gen­eral Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus said in a state­ment.

Last week, a top WHO of­fi­cial warned that if the virus reached Mban­daka, the DRC could be con­fronted with yet an­other Ebola cri­sis.

The city’s pop­u­la­tion has been var­i­ously es­ti­mated at be­tween 700,000 and 1.2 mil­lion.

“If we see a town of that size in­fected with Ebola, then we are go­ing to have a ma­jor ur­ban out­break,” the WHO’s head of emer­gency re­sponse, Peter Salama, told re­porters last week.

The agency said yes­ter­day it was de­ploy­ing around 30 ex­perts to Mban­daka “to con­duct sur­veil­lance in the city”, in­clud­ing rapid ef­forts to trace all con­tacts of the new ur­ban case.

Forty-four cases have been re­ported in the out­break so far, in­clud­ing three con­firmed, 20 prob­a­ble and 21 sus­pected, ac­cord­ing to the WHO’s tally.

Ebola is not only lethal but also highly con­ta­gious, which makes it dif­fi­cult to con­tain and roll back.

Lack­ing an arse­nal of drugs to treat or pre­vent the virus, doc­tors use clas­sic tac­tics of iso­lat­ing pa­tients and trac­ing peo­ple who have been in con­tact with them.

That chal­lenge am­pli­fies greatly in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments where peo­ple move around more and have more con­tact with oth­ers than in the coun­try­side.

Adding to the headache is the fact that the virus has bro­ken out anew in one of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble and volatile coun­tries.

A coun­try four times the size of France, the DRC has been chron­i­cally un­sta­ble and episod­i­cally racked by vi­o­lence since it gained in­de­pen­dence from Bel­gium in 1960.

De­spite vast min­eral wealth, the coun­try re­mains mired in poverty, and is sad­dled with a reputation for cor­rup­tion and poor gover­nance.

Ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture – hos­pi­tals, roads, elec­tric­ity – is a ma­jor ob­sta­cle in re­mote ar­eas.

This is the ninth time DRC has been hit with Ebola since 1976, when the deadly vi­ral dis­ease was first iden­ti­fied in then-Zaire by a Bel­gian-led team.

The virus is widely re­garded as one of the world’s most ter­ri­fy­ing as it can spread eas­ily and kill quickly. — AFP

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