Global health officials are monitoring a possible resurgence of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo amid reports of an outbreak of the dreaded infection in the vicinity of the northern border.
Public health officials in the DRC have reported at least 43 cases of suspicion of Ebola and four deaths. While only two of the cases positively confirmed in a laboratory, Ebola, experts of the World Health Organization and the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention are closely monitoring the situation and teams are already in the remote region in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
“The Likati health of the district is in a remote area, but contact tracing is essential to the outbreak in its focus; the DRC can rely on experienced health workers for this purpose,” Yokouidé Allarangar, WHO is the representative in DRC, said in a statement earlier this month.
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This is the eighth epidemic of Ebola in the DRC since the discovery of the virus in 1976 and only three years after an outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people and created a worldwide panic. It is still unclear how Ebola outbreak started, but the researchers speculate that it could come from people eating contaminated pieces of “bush meat” – the meat of primates and other wild animals sold in local markets or from bats that the execution of the virus.
The DRC may have in the past experience with the Ebola outbreak, but experts believe that the distance of the outbreak hot zone – the north-east of the Bas-Uélé province – and the country’s ongoing civil war efforts to contain the virus’ spread is difficult.
“The logistics are difficult,” Jesse Goodman, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship, told Fox News. “It is a real challenge, but they have identified the environment and the tracking of a large number of new contacts.”
The area is located more than 300 kilometers from the DRC capital, Kinshasa, has very few passable roads and bridges open during this time of the year, so helicopters are required to work in teams and equipment to the city of Likati, where the engines take over. The health of the employees already have two mobile labs, but a generator in one failed and had to be replaced.
What the 2014 outbreak teaches us two things: Ebola is not going away and we can’t let our guard down.
– Dr. Jesse Goodman of the Georgetown University
The DRC government, together with the research department of the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, to an ethical review board on Wednesday, a formal process protocol for a non-licensed vaccine. If approved, the vaccine developed by Merck and stored in the US – this would be for the vulnerable people within the two weeks. To speed up the process, recently issued a “donor alert,” request a six-month budget of € 10.5 million in support of the vaccine study and to fund the monitoring, prevention of infection, social mobilization and decontamination efforts.
To add to the difficulties in the access to the region is the continuing ethnic conflict between the Tutsi-controlled government under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila, who refused to leave office at the end of his term of office last year, and the Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.
“The political problems they are struggling with are often situations that make it difficult to fight any type of viral outbreak,” Goodman said. “The unrest makes for a rich breeding ground for an outbreak.”
Amid militia clashes and plenty of violent protests in December left more than 50 people dead – the DRC saw more people leave their homes in 2016 than anywhere else in the world. According to the most recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 992,000 people fled the violence in 2016, compared to 824,000 in Syria, 659,000 in Iraq and 653,000 in Afghanistan.
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FILE – In this undated colorized transmission electron micrograph image made available by the CDC shows an Ebola virus virion. Public health is investigating nine suspected cases of Ebola in a remote corner of northern Congo, including two deaths, the country’s health minister said Friday 12 May 2017. (Frederick Murphy/CDC via AP, File)
“DRC, the crisis is often overlooked by the media and the international community focused on the latest disaster or conflict in order to attract their attention,” the IDMC report stated. “This will have serious consequences for millions of people in desperate need of assistance. The country is in the battle for the best of 20 years, but there are indications that the situation for the most vulnerable is severely deteriorated in the past few years.”
While the remoteness of the region experienced the outbreak can be a challenge in treating and identifying those who are infected with Ebola, experts believe that the insulation can also play in their favor by slowing the spread of the infection. Still, they warn, even though the current outbreak is small and isolated, it should be checked carefully on the neighbouring war-torn countries from South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“What the 2014 outbreak teaches us two things,” Goodman said. “Ebola is not going away and we can’t let our guard down.”