The Ebola outbreak in Congo has killed more than 500 people (Image: Getty Images)The virus, which is often fatal, has spiralled out of control beca
The Ebola outbreak in Congo has killed more than 500 people
The virus, which is often fatal, has spiralled out of control because of the security situation in the central African nation, where armed rebels make containing the disease difficult. A health ministry bulletin published late on Friday said: “In total, there have been 502 deaths, while 271 people have been cured.” Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga later told AFP that a pioneering Ebola vaccine had protected 76,425 people and therefore prevented “thousands” of deaths.
“I believe we have prevented the spread of the epidemic in the big cities,” he said, adding that health teams had thus far “managed to contain the spread of the epidemic to neighbouring countries.”
“The biggest problem is the high mobility of the population,” he said.
Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids and causes haemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.
The current outbreak, the country’s worst and the second-biggest ever recorded, started last August in the North Kivu region, which borders Uganda and Rwanda.
The Spanish branch of the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Saturday that there had been a surge in cases since January 15.
“Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, further north, are all on alert,” MSF said on Twitter.
On Sunday, the charity Save the Children said that at least 97 children had died in the current outbreak, 65 of whom were under the age of five.
Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s country director in DR Congo, said: “We are at a crossroads. If we don’t take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.”
A Red Cross staff counts the number of people at an Ebola screening point
The call to attention comes as Ebola has spread to 18 separate health zones in DR Congo.
The region where the virus has struck hardest this time is an active conflict zone, where frequent fighting between armed rebels has made it hard for health workers to move around freely and monitor potential sufferers and to spread messages about how to avoid becoming sick.
Efforts to contain the outbreak were also hampered after violence related to December’s disputed presidential election halted prevention work.
About 30 health facilities were targeted by protesters in the Ebola hotspot of Beni, while efforts to trace anyone thought to have had contact with the virus were partially suspended due to security concerns.
The call to attention comes as Ebola has spread to 18 separate health zones in DR Congo
In a situation report published in mid-January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the outbreak had reached a critical stage: “The persistence of insecurity threatens to reverse recent progress achieved around disease hotspots such as Beni and Butembo.”
The WHO also reiterated its warning that there was a high risk of Ebola spreading to neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda and even South Sudan due to extensive travel between the affected areas.
Health workers in Uganda and Rwanda have been briefed and vaccinated and travellers are being screened at major airports, but there is still potential for Ebola victims to cross the region’s porous borders undetected.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said: “It is absolutely vital we are prepared for any potential case of Ebola spreading beyond the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa
“WHO is investing a huge amount of resources into preventing Ebola from spreading outside DRC and helping governments ramp up their readiness to respond should any country have a positive case of Ebola.”
A group of health experts said in the British medical journal The Lancet last week the DR Congo outbreak is “not under control” and that “bold measures” were needed to stop the virus from running amok.
The article’s lead author, Lawrence Gostin, a global health faculty director at Georgetown University in Washington DC, said that the WHO should consider declaring the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
This alert, a PHEIC, has only been used four times in the past – for the last major Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the Swine flu outbreak in 2009, a resurgence of polio in 2014, and the Zika outbreak in South America in 2016.