The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concern after 44 Ebola virus disease cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The agency says that there have been three confirmed cases of the outbreak, with 20 listed as “probable” and a further 21 designated as “suspected”. Most of the cases have been in the Bikoro health zone of Equateur Province, but yesterday (Thursday), WHO confirmed a case in Wangata health zone, 150 km away.
“This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola,” WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said. “WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus.”
This week, Dr Tedros visited DRC and met President Joseph Kabila and Health Minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga to agree a plan of action. “I am impressed by the strong leadership the Government of DR Congo showed in the response to this outbreak from day one,” Dr Tedros said. “In Bikoro I saw first-hand the efforts the national health authorities and all our partners are investing in rapidly establishing the key elements of Ebola containment.”
Dr Tedros’ delegation included the WHO regional delegation for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who also congratulated the government on it s response: “I congratulate the Government of DR Congo for the speed with which it declared the outbreak. However, we are concerned about the proximity of cases to urban centres.
“The arrival of Ebola in an urban area is very concerning and WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts” of those infected, he said.
WHO is deploying around 30 experts to conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to engage with communities on prevention and treatment and the reporting of new cases. They are working with an international group of health and emergency agencies to prevent the spread of the disease.
WHO’s deputy director general for emergency preparedness and response, Dr Peter Salama, said: “It is too early to judge the extent of this outbreak. However, early signs including the infection of three health workers, the geographical extent of the outbreak, the proximity to transport routes and population centres, and the number of suspected cases indicate that stopping this outbreak will be a serious challenge. This will be tough and it will be costly. We need to be prepared for all scenarios.”
WHO has alerted neighbouring countries and is working with them on border surveillance and preparedness for potential outbreaks.
“We are profoundly concerned to hear about the recent outbreak of Ebola in DRC,” the Revd Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, which helps to co-ordinate the activities of Anglican relief and development agencies, said. “During the 2015 epidemic in West Africa, the Anglican churches in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea played a key role, along with other faith leaders, in educating communities and promoting safe practices to prevent the spread of Ebola.
“The Anglican Alliance stands ready to work with the churches in DRC to help share the lessons learned from West Africa.”