Ebola outbreak in DR Congo is second worst in history


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially announced the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the second largest and second deadliest in history, behind the devastating West Africa outbreak in 2014 that killed thousands.

The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo is now the second biggest in history, with 426 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry says. So far this outbreak has 198 confirmed deaths and 47 probable ones.

Ebola is said to be more prominent in North Kivu and Ituri provinces where attacks by armed groups and community resistance to health officials have hampered the response, IRC said in a statement.

Many venture out on critical virus containment work only with the accompaniment of United Nations peacekeepers while gunfire echoes daily.

But it is still much smaller than the epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 which killed 11,310 people. "But the problem is, working in such an unstable area, you have to be assured of safety of the vaccinators, and you have to be able to trace the potential contacts and get them vaccinated", Peter added.

Last month, the WHO heeded the recommendation of an expert advisory committee to not declare the Democratic Republic of the Congo's latest Ebola epidemic a public health emergency of worldwide concern - a proclamation that would have mobilized more resources and garnered global attention. But it has drawn concern to areas that are virtually inaccessible because of the threat of rebel groups.

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It is not clear how many Centres for Disease Control and Prevention workers are now forced to tackle the outbreak from DRC's capital, Kinshasa, almost 1 600km away.

"While the numbers are far from those from West Africa in 2014, we're witnessing how the dynamics of conflict pose a different kind of threat", said Michelle Gayer, senior director of emergency health at the International Rescue Committee. As emergency coordinator for MSF's Ebola response, Axelle Ronsse said, "we are now operating in a war zone".

The alarmingly high number of infected newborns in this outbreak is another concern, and so far a mystery.

Children who went to health centers for malaria are believed to have contracted Ebola there, and about half of the people screened in Ebola centers only had malaria, said the WHO.

"It is in U.S. national interests to control outbreaks before they escalate into a crisis", one group of global health experts said in the Journal of the American Medical Association.