Kinshasa, DR Congo : The Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, has claimed 55 lives since the start of the month, the government said on Monday while announcing free treatment against the disease for the next three months.
The health ministry’s latest bulletin said that the death toll had been increased following five new victims in Mabalako-Mangina, close to Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak in the North Kivu province.
In all, “96 cases of haemorrhagic fever were reported in the region, 69 of which had been confirmed and 27 were seen as probable,” the ministry said.
At the same time, the medical team in charge of fighting the disease revised downwards the estimated number of “contacts” – people who may have had contact with the virus – from 2 157 to 1 609, following epidemiological tests.
Beni’s mayor Jean Edmond Nyonyi Masumbuko Bwanakawa announced that the government had decided to make treatment free in Beni, Mabalako-Mangina and Oicha for three months starting on Monday.
The aim was to “remove the financial barrier that could dissuade the population from going to the health centre,” said Dr. Bathe Ndjoloko Tambwe, in charge of coordinating the fight against the disease.
The average earnings of the 80 million people in the DRC are estimated at $1.25 per day.
The current Ebola outbreak began on August 1 in Mangina in North Kivu.
It is the 10th outbreak to strike the DRC since 1976, when Ebola was first identified and named after a river in the north of the country.
Ebola has long been considered incurable, though swift isolation and the rapid treatment of symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration has helped some patients to survive.
The quest for a vaccine grew increasingly urgent during an Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11 300 people in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013-15
EARLIER : DR Congo Ebola Outbreak Poses High Regional Risk, WHO Says
Geneva, Switzerland : The latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) poses a high risk to the region, though the danger of the disease spreading worldwide was described as low, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in Geneva, on Friday.
33 people are believed to have died in the latest outbreak, which the Congo government said on Wednesday had affected North Kivu Province, where conflict between armed groups has displaced more than a million people. North Kivu, in northeastern Congo, has borders with Rwanda and Uganda.
The outbreak is “at the top of the scale” in terms of the difficulty of responding, Dr. Peter Salama, head of the World Health Organization’s emergency response unit, told reporters in Geneva.
Suspected cases are under investigation across an area of more than 150 square miles, Dr. Salama added, citing the challenges of operating over large distances in a conflict zone.
The results of government laboratory tests make it “extremely likely” that the outbreak was the “Zaire” strain of the Ebola virus, Dr. Salama said.
The authorities in Congo declared 10 days ago that an outbreak of the same strain of Ebola in the northwestern province of Équateur had ended. That outbreak caused 33 deaths but was contained with the help of vaccines in storage in the capital, Kinshasa. Those vaccines should also be available to tackle the latest cases.
The Zaire strain is, however, the deadliest form of Ebola, a highly infectious disease that causes hemorrhaging, fever, bloody vomiting and diarrhea. The virus can often spread out of control, as it did during a 2015 outbreak in West Africa.
The Health Ministry in Congo confirmed on Wednesday that four people had contracted the disease in the remote town of Mangina in North Kivu, about 100 miles from the border with Uganda, where the latest outbreak is believed to have started.
The first case to raise alarm was a 65-year-old woman who had been hospitalized with fever and later discharged, but who then died in late July, Dr. Salama said. She was buried in a manner that health officials said was unsafe, and seven members of her immediate family have also died.
Dr. Salama said suspected cases had been identified in the city of Beni, in North Kivu, and in neighboring Ituri Province, to the north. He said the authorities were trying to track down contacts in 10 locations across an area of about 150 square miles.
One nurse has also died, and two others are believed to be infected, Dr. Salama said.
An outbreak of the Ebola virus declared this week in eastern Congo is believed to have killed 33 people, the health ministry said on Saturday.
Thirteen cases of the haemorrhagic fever have been confirmed, including three deaths, the ministry said in a statement, adding that suspected cases had been detected in both North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province.
Three cases have been confirmed in Beni, a regional trading hub of several hundred thousand people about 30 kilometres from the centre of the outbreak in the town of Mabalako, and some 70 kilometres from the Ugandan border.
The latest flare-up was announced one week after Congo’s government declared the end of another outbreak in northwestern Congo that is believed to have killed 33 people as well. Health authorities say they have no evidence the two are connected.
So far, 879 people who came into contact with Ebola patients have been identified, the ministry said. Tracking those contacts, however, could be difficult in this part of the country, given its dense population and the presence of dozens of militia groups.
As with the outbreak in western Congo, health officials plan to deploy a vaccine manufactured by Merck that they have credited with helping disrupt the spread of the virus after it reached a river port city with transport links to the capital Kinshasa.
A so-called cold chain, the series of measures needed to keep the vaccine well below zero in a tropical climate without reliable power supplies, will be set up in Beni this weekend, the statement said.
For health officials, the lack of security in the region adds a daunting hazard to the already formidable challenges of operating in remote locations spread across huge distances and in dense forest with poor roads and communications.
Meanwhile, Uganda has set up screening at the land border it shares with Congo and at its Entebbe international airport.
“Ebola is highly infectious so we have put in place measures,” Uganda’s Junior Health Minister Sarah Achieng Opendi told reporters.
An international delegation including officials from the United Nations, the World Bank and the WHO is in Beni, 30 km from Mangina.