21 May 2018

Congo-Kinshasa: WHO Says Better Prepared This Year Than for 2014 Outbreak

Photo: Luis Encinas/MSF
Ebola isolation area

The UN agency has said an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is concerning, but the outlook is better than in 2014. The comments came as the DRC kicked off a vaccination campaign to contain the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that it is in a much better place to respond quickly to this year's Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) than in previous years.

The prior leaders of the UN agency were roundly criticized for their sluggish response to an outbreak that erupted in 2014 that killed more than 11,300 people.

What has the WHO done differently this time?

The agency responded much more quickly this year and convened an Emergency Committee shortly after Ebola cases were confirmed.

They've also coordinated a vaccination campaign in the DRC to hopefully stop the virus from spreading further.

In 2014, the WHO didn't call an emergency meeting until August 2014 although an outbreak was officially declared in March 2014 and there were other known cases in 2013. The deadly outbreak lasted until January 2016, killing people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia with the last known fatality in January 2016.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said he was still optimistic, despite concerns that the virus was found in Mbandaka, a city on the Congo River with a population of one million, and that it could possibly spread downstream to the capital city Kinshasa -- where 10 million people live.

"It's concerning that we now have cases of Ebola in an urban center, but we are much better placed to deal with this outbreak than we were in 2014," Tedros told health ministers at the WHO's annual assembly.

Vaccination campaign begins: Congolese health officials and WHO staff said that a vaccination campaign in Mbandaka has begun. Over 70 health workers who have come in contact with the virus will be the first to be vaccinated, while relatives and others who had come in contact with Ebola victims will follow afterwards.

Dozens killed in DRC outbreak: A total of 27 people have died from the outbreak so far. Out of 49 hemorrhagic fever cases in the DRC, 22 of them have been confirmed as Ebola, 21 are listed as probable while 6 cases are suspected, Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. Two patients have recovered from Ebola and have returned home, but will be monitored.

Deadly virus: Ebola symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and pain in muscles as well as internal and external bleeding. There is no specific treatment for the virus. Depending on the strain, it can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases

rs/rc (AP, Reuters)

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