Health workers fear ebola could spread from Congo

Florence Lopez
May 12, 2018

Confirming the case in a chat with Reuters, the director of the main hospital in Democratic Republic of Congo's northwestern town of Bikoro said the health Centre received a new case.

"We are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario", WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama told reporters in Geneva.

This is DRC's ninth outbreak of Ebola since the discovery of the virus in the country in 1976.

World Health Organisation officials are preparing for the "worst case scenario", in other words, an epidemic or continent-wide pandemic.

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WHO said 34 Ebola cases have now been reported in the past five weeks, including two confirmed, 18 probable cases, and 14 suspected cases, up from the 32 cases that the organization last reported on May 10. However, the disease is not as gruesome as has sometimes been reported (body organs don't liquiefy), which makes it hard to figure out what's Ebola and what's not. It also said it knew of three sick people in Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, where it is sending experts to investigate. "We must take extra measures to make sure people are screened at all the entry points into the country", he said. "WHO will work closely with health authorities and partners to support the national response".

The WHO has also put Congo's nine neighbours on high alert, with most concern for Congo Republic, which shares a long border with it on the Congo and Ubangi rivers, and Central African Republic to the north, although the risk of worldwide spread was still seen as low. Bikoro has a population of about 163,000 spread over an area of approximately 1,075 square kilometers (415 square miles). There is no specific treatment for Ebola, which is spread through the bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms. The $252 million in cuts proposed by Trump is the amount remaining in that Obama-era package, according to a report in The Atlantic magazine - leaving nothing specifically allocated to deal with any future Ebola epidemic. The Congo Republic is just on the other side of the river.

Salama said World Health Organization is waiting for DR Congo authorities to approve the deployment of an experimental vaccine although he added the drug was not a magic bullet.

DR Congo has suffered a number of Ebola outbreaks in recent years, but has largely managed to contain them. The virus killed at least 11,000 people across six countries, including a single fatality in the U.S. The worldwide response to that crisis was criticised for moving too slowly, prompting an apology from the WHO.

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