Ebola spreads to ma­jor DRC city as vac­cines a con­cern

Daily Nation Newspaper - - NEWS OF THE WORLD -

KINSHASA - The se­cond-largest Ebola out­break in his­tory has spread to a ma­jor city in east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, as health ex­perts worry whether the stock of an ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cine will stand up to the de­mands of an epi­demic with no end in sight.

Butembo, with more than one mil­lion res­i­dents, is now re­port­ing cases of the deadly haem­or­rhagic fever. That com­pli­cates Ebola con­tain­ment work al­ready chal­lenged by rebel at­tacks else­where that have made track­ing the virus al­most im­pos­si­ble in some iso­lated vil­lages.

“We are very con­cerned by the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the Butembo area,” said John John­son, project co­or­di­na­tor with Medecins Sans Fron­tieres in the city. New cases are in­creas­ing quickly in the east­ern sub­urbs and out­ly­ing, iso­lated dis­tricts, the med­i­cal char­ity said.

The out­break de­clared on Au­gust 1 is now se­cond only to the dev­as­tat­ing West Africa out­break that killed more than 11, 300 peo­ple a few years ago. There are cur­rently 471 Ebola cases, of which 423 are con­firmed, in­clud­ing 225 con­firmed deaths, DRC’s health min­istry said late on Thurs­day.

With­out the teams that have vac­ci­nated more than 41, 000 peo­ple so far, this out­break could have al­ready seen more than 10, 000 Ebola cases, the health min­istry said.

No in­ter­rup­tions

This is by far the largest de­ploy­ment of the promis­ing but still ex­per­i­men­tal Ebola vac­cine, which is owned by Merck. The com­pany keeps a stock­pile of 300, 000 doses, and pre­par­ing them takes months.

“We are ex­tremely con­cerned about the size of the vac­cine stock­pile,” WHO’s emer­gen­cies di­rec­tor, Dr Pe­ter Salama, told the STAT me­dia out­let in an in­ter­view this week, say­ing 300 000 doses is not suf­fi­cient as ur­ban Ebola out­breaks be­come more com­mon.

Health work­ers, con­tacts of Ebola vic­tims and their con­tacts have re­ceived the vac­cine in a “ring vac­ci­na­tion” ap­proach, but in some cases all res­i­dents of hard-to-reach com­mu­ni­ties have been of­fered it.

The prospect of a mass vac­ci­na­tion in a ma­jor city like Butembo has raised con­cerns. Salama called the ap­proach “ex­tremely im­prac­ti­cal.”

A WHO spokesman said ship­ments of doses ar­rive al­most ev­ery week to en­sure a suf­fi­cient sup­ply for the ring vac­ci­na­tion. “No in­ter­rup­tions of vac­cine sup­ply have oc­curred to date,” Tarik Jasare­vic said. “Merck is ac­tively work­ing to en­sure suf­fi­cient num­ber of doses con­tinue to be avail­able to meet the po­ten­tial de­mand. –

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