Ebola outbreak spreads to urban area as deaths mount

Nora Nguyen
May 18, 2018

The WHO's expert committee will decide whether to declare a "public health emergency of worldwide concern", which would trigger more global involvement, mobilising research and resources, the WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said on Thursday. The city is about 93 miles from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week, said Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga.

It is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in Congo since the disease made its first known appearance near its northern Ebola river in the 1970s. "Since the announcement of the alert in Mbandaka, our epidemiologists are working in the field to identify people who have been in contact with suspected cases".

The disease has spread from the remote rural region where it began to Mbandaka, a city of almost 1.2 million people, prompting fears that it will become hard to control.

"Another major issue here is that this centre of Mbandaka is on the banks of Congo River, and that river connects to the internal hinterland of DRC but also to surrounding countries such as Congo-Brazzaville and Central African Republic, so this outbreak now has a real risk of national and regional amplification". And the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, where over 730,000 people live, is not too far away.

Last week, a top World Health Organization official warned that if the virus reached Mbandaka, the DRC could be confronted with yet another Ebola crisis. "This requires a more urgent and comprehensive response, and a need for increased US leadership and involvement".

The DRC's Health Ministry, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been tracking the virus since an initial investigative team arrived in Bikoro on May 5.

As of yet, the WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies, The Wellcome Trust, the United Kingdom, the UN, and Gavi have contributed $8 million to contain the outbreak, which WHO estimates will cost at least $26 million to quell over three months.

"With the new case confirmed in Mbandaka, the scenario has changed, and it has become more serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area".

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Last week, President Donald Trump proposed cutting the $252 million in Ebola response funds for US agencies.

Which may be needed soon, if this Ebola outbreak continues to expand.

As of 15 May, a total of 44 Ebola virus disease cases have been reported: 3 confirmed, 20 probable, and 21 suspected. In 23 cases, patients have died, said Kalenga, the country's health minister. The funds will be used to finance health care services in the health facilities serving the affected population, to provide medicines required for the case management of Ebola patients and suspected cases of Ebola, and to finance support and logistics.

This is a developing story.

Though the world is in a better position to protect communities and health workers this time thanks to rapid national response and worldwide collaboration, he said, "his will be an incredibly challenging operation, across a vast area and fragile health systems-and can not be limited to deployment of vaccines".

“This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola, ” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. Ebola spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids of infected people. Sources say it will assist the agencies to encircle and destroy the deadly virus in the isolated areas itself.

Bikoro Hospital in Bikoro, the rural area where the Ebola outbreak was announced last week, in Congo.

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