The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains on an epidemiological knife-edge regarding the spread of deadly Ebola disease, despite the quick response to the threat, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Dr Peter Salama, the WHO Deputy Director-General, who heads emergency preparedness and response, said that there were several reasons why the current outbreak, has yet to be contained. The deadly virus has claimed 27 lives since it was declared on 8 May.
Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks in DRC, the 2018 outbreak has been complicated by the fact that it involves rural and urban areas, raising concerns that it might spread both nationally and internationally particularly since the city of Mbandaka, where the disease was identified after first surfacing in the relatively remote Bikoro, is close to the Congo River, the main transport link to DRC’s capital, Kinshasa.
Dr Salama said that with 58 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of the disease in the country, effective tracing of anyone who has come into contact with the disease will make or break the response to Ebola.
He described the task ahead as the detective work of epidemiology.
Dr Salama added that medical personnel at a hospital in Wangata, Mbandaka, were tracing some 600 contacts from three separate chains of transmission.
One of the chains was associated with a funeral in a neighbouring town of Bikoro; another was linked to a health-care facility in the small village of Iboko; and the third related to a church ceremony. Dr Salama said that each one has the potential to expand if not controlled.
The WHO official confirmed that a selective, or ring vaccination programme had just begun and that efforts are ongoing to ensure that the Ebola drug can be stored in ultra-cold conditions at between -60 and -80°C.
Ebola, a virus-caused hemorrhagic fever that spreads through contact with bodily fluids, is both highly infectious and extremely lethal. However, a vaccination campaign, also got underway this week in DRC in another drive to control possible spread of the virus.
The campaign is beginning with first responders, and will soon move to anyone known to have been in contact with suspected cases, and then on to the contacts of the contacts.
“This is not mass immunization, this is highly targeted ring vaccination,” Salama said, pointing out that the aim was to form “protective rings around each case to protect the people themselves, but also to prevent further community transmission.”
He said some 10,000 people should be vaccinated within the next month before cautioning that the vaccine, is not a silver bullet against the deadly virus.