The World Health Organisation fears the continued “intense transmission” of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where deaths from a nine-month-old epidemic are on the cusp of hitting 1,000 cases within hours.
- The number of Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to hit 1000 shortly
- A doctor working in an Ebola-affected town was killed in April by a group of armed men
- Doctors Without Boarders recently pulled its services out of the country due to violence
The rising number of new cases was announced as increasing violence and resistance to healthcare continues, allowing the disease to spread to caregivers and countless others, health experts said.
The WHO plans to expand vaccination with an unlicensed new Ebola vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, in addition to a Merck vaccine already being used, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said.
“We are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission,” Dr Ryan told a news briefing.
The WHO reported 126 new confirmed cases were reported over a seven-day stretch ending on Sunday, the largest such tally in this outbreak that was first declared in August.
Fifteen deaths were reported on Sunday alone, marking the highest number of deaths reported on a single day in the outbreak.
“We haven’t exceeded the 1,000 (deaths) as of this morning but we will likely exceed that today when we see the numbers later this evening. We want to use every tool in the tool box.”
Security incidents continue to plague the response to the outbreak, with 119 additional cases since January alone, Dr Ryan said. This curtails access and thereby slows efforts to vaccinate more than 900 people a day, as well as daily checks on some 12,000 people potentially exposed to the virus, he said.
Distrust of health workers, combined with a highly volatile security situation at the outbreak’s epicenter, is putting the Ebola response in serious peril.
Voters in Ebola hotspots were unable to vote in the January presidential election, deepening false suspicions that Ebola had been brought to the region for political gain.
“We still face major issues of community acceptance and trust,” Dr Ryan added.
Doctor killed in Ebola-affected town
The WHO recently concluded a program in Butembo, an Ebola-affected town where an epidemiologist was killed by armed men last month.
Richard Mouzoko, a Cameroonian epidemiologist working with WHO, was killed on April 19 while he and colleagues were working on the Ebola response. Two other health workers were injured.
“The demise of Richard really shocked all of us. He was only saving lives, and nothing else,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
The IRC said it has had to curtail its triage efforts in those areas as a result. Doctors Without Borders has also pulled out temporarily, leaving the health ministry to run the treatment centres there.
He urged the international community to step up support to contain the Ebola outbreak, including filling the funding gap that threatens to stymie the Ebola response.
There now have been 957 deaths among the 1,466 confirmed and probable cases reported in this outbreak, WHO said.