Ebola Outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo Spreads

17 May, 2018

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported another case of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

WHO officials said on Thursday the case was confirmed in Mbandaka, a city of more than one million people, in the country's northwest.

Mbandaka is about 150 kilometers from Bikoro, a rural area where Ebola was found earlier this month.

Congolese Health Ministry officials arrange the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 16, 2018.
Congolese Health Ministry officials arrange the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 16, 2018.

The appearance of the deadly virus in the city has raised fears of a new Ebola epidemic.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was a concerning development.

A total of 44 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of the disease have been reported since the Ebola outbreak was discovered. Officials say at least 23 people of those patients are now dead.

The WHO says it is sending about 30 experts to Mbandaka. The first shipment of 4,000 experimental Ebola vaccines arrived Wednesday in Congo's capital, Kinshasa. The vaccine will be given to health care workers and those who have had contact with the virus.

Drug company Merck, the vaccine's manufacturer, has told the WHO it will supply whatever is needed for this outbreak.

International reaction

There are a few similarities between the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC and one the that struck West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

For one, the World Health Organization is already involved. Doctor Tedros led a delegation to Congo on May 13. He and others went there to study the early reaction to the outbreak and meet with Congo's president and health minister.

Stephen Morrison is head of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He led research on the West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people.

Morrison says he is closely watching the latest outbreak in the DRC.

"I thought it was very commendable and a great sign of the change of outlook that Dr. Tedros himself was personally there, and that was very important."

Efforts to stop the disease

Another difference from 2014 is that the WHO has set aside emergency money to get experts in place to contain a new outbreak. WHO experts and teams from Doctors Without Borders have been in Bikoro, where the outbreak was first reported. The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has people in the DRC.

In addition, the World Food Program is providing several flights a day to get the vaccine and supplies to the affected area. Workers have set up treatment centers that quarantine the sick from other people. The centers have hand-washing stations, where water mixed with bleach kills the virus.

'A lot of learning'

Morrison told VOA what is happening in Central Africa "shows a lot of learning and a different...response" from earlier outbreaks. He added that it is very different from the delayed response over a six month period in the West Africa outbreak.

Morrison points out that the DRC has a lot of experience dealing with Ebola, but the deadly virus was new to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in 2014.

Morrison says a lot was learned from that epidemic.

"We are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario." Peter Salama of the WHO is Deputy Director-General for emergency preparedness and response.

In the worst case scenario, the virus could travel to heavily populated cities and get out of control. Bikoro is on a lake that feeds into rivers that connect to Kinshasa, Brazzaville and other cities. In Congo, the government, WHO and others are working to make sure this does not happen.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC since 1974, when the country was named Zaire.

I'm Susan Shand.

Carol Pearson reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story:

outbreakn. a sudden start or increase of fighting or disease

epidemicn. a situation in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people

commendableadj. worthy of praise and approval

quarantinen. the period of time during which a person or animal infected with a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading

bleachn. a strong chemical that is used to make something clean or white

scenarion. a description of what could possibly happen