Rwanda: Ebola in DR Congo's Goma Potential 'Game-Changer'

An Ebola treatment centre at Beni Hospital, North Kivu, DR Congo

A first case of Ebola arriving in Goma, Congo's eastern border hub, amounts to a potential "game-changer" warns the World Health Organization. It's called an appraisal meeting in Geneva while urging calm in Goma.

The UN agency's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday he was "confident" that the World Health Organization (WHO) already had preparations in place to ward off an urban spread of the often fatal hemorrhagic epidemic.

Goma, a lakeside city of more than 1 million, lies 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of the area in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where Ebola surfaced in August last year, subsequently killing 1,655 people.

On Sunday, a pastor bearing symptoms arrived by bus in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, and was confirmed as carrying the virus. He has visited parishioners in Butembo, an Ebola epicenter town, last week, according to Congolese heath officials.

Multiple reports Monday said the pastor was taken back "swiftly" to Butembo for treatment in a clinic.

Other bus passengers, 18 in all, and the driver were to be vaccinated on Monday, said Congo's health ministry, adding that current risk of a viral spread within Goma was "low."

The case coincided with a regional Health Ministry statement that two Ebola workers were killed over the weekend by unidentified attackers near Mukulia in North Kivu province --- the latest in a series of incidents in Congo's restive east hindering containment.

Goma case isolated early

North Kivu province governor Carly Nzanzu Kasiviata said the Goma case was "detected at an early stage" and isolated.

He urged city population to "keep calm" and to observe hygiene measures.

Goma had reportedly long set up hand-washing stations, with motorbike taxi drivers being told not to share helmets.

Ebola spreads when humans touch bodily fluids or contaminated objects.

Potential 'game-changer'

In Geneva, WHO chief Tedros said the spread to Goma was a potential "game-changer" although he was "confident" that the city had precautions in place.

But, he was reconvening the UN agency's expert committee to assess whether to declare an international emergency - a step it has avoided three times in the past.

It was to be attended by representatives of DR Congo, the UK, the World Bank and other UN agencies.

WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said response teams in DRC had identified 60 contacts, including 18 who arrived in the bus with the priest in Goma on Sunday.

So far, half of them had been vaccinated, Ryan said, adding: "Goma is a warning."

Case worrying

A WHO response team member, Dr. Harouna Djingarey, quoted by Associated Press, said Goma authorities had located two buses taken by the pastor before he reached the city on Sunday.

The case was worrying, said Djingarey, because Goma -- near Congo's border with Rwanda -- was "the door of this region to the rest of world."

North Kivu province's outbreak since last year had also seen 700 people cured, and more than 160,000 vaccinated, according to DR Congo's Health Ministry.

It is the 10th outbreak documented in Congo since 1976, when the disease was identified near the Ebola River, which gives it its name.

The viral disease struck West Africa in 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.

(AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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