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Monday, May 14, 2018

New Ebola outbreak: WHO prepares for the "worst case scenario"

Por Nina

The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing for the "worst case scenario" possible in the face of the new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where 32 suspected cases of the disease have already been detected. Last Tuesday, the Ministry of Health of the DRC reported that it had confirmed two cases of Ebola in the laboratory and on the same day it officially declared a new outbreak in the country, the scene of several epidemics in the past.

Teams from WHO, Unicef, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been deployed in the region where the outbreak has arisen, in Bikoro (northwest), a remote place 280 kilometers from the provincial capital and with a very poor infrastructure, explained at a press conference the emergency director of the WHO, Peter Salama.

"We are very worried because the area where it has emerged is remote and very poor and with very poor access, so the arrival of assistance is a challenge in itself," said the expert. WHO has alerted nine border DRC countries, although they are particularly concerned about the risk of contagion in Congo Brazaville and the Central African Republic, because they share waterways with Kinshasa.

For this reason, WHO is about to sign an agreement with the World Food Program (WFP) to have helicopters in which to transport personnel and materials, while at the same time planning the possibility of creating a landing strip so that the planes can land. "We are afraid that the outbreak will expand to Bandaka, the provincial capital, with a million inhabitants, if it reaches that city we will have a bigger outbreak and a very important challenge, because we know from our experience in West Africa that when Ebola arrives to the big city, and especially to shanty towns, it is very difficult to stop the disease," said Salama.

He assumed that the WHO response is being "immediate" and totally proactive after the criticisms leveled at the organization in 2014 for its delayed reaction to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that resulted in 11,300 deaths and more than 28,000 cases. From this experience, it was learned that it is essential to deploy on the ground anthropologists and community communication experts to explain to the local population the risks involved in being in direct contact with a sick person, since the Ebola virus is transmitted by the secretion of the skin and mucous membranes, especially just after dying.

The first cases of hemorrhagic fever due to the new Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were detected in December, while the first deaths were recorded in January, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Thursday. "According to our first reports, cases were reported since December and the first deaths occurred in January, but the connection between the deaths and the epidemic has not been established at the moment," the WHO spokesperson in Congo, Eugene Kabambi, told Reuters.

The agency, which confirmed on Tuesday the ninth Ebola epidemic in the country since 1976, added that, so far, at least 17 people have died in the northwest, although they have not reported when they happened. For now, only two cases of Ebola have been confirmed after being analyzed in a laboratory in the capital, Kinshasha. However, this same Thursday, four people have been transferred to Bikoro Hospital due to suspicions of contagion of the disease, so the number of people with symptoms rises to 25. Although Congolese epidemiologists believe that the risk of spreading the virus is very low because it was registered in the remote area of Bikoro, WHO has already activated the Contingency Plan to contain the virus. However, the WHO has specified that the new outbreak is not related to that of 2014, which killed more than 11,300 people among the nearly 28,000 cases diagnosed. For its part, the Congolese Ministry of Health has sent a team of 12 experts to the area to identify the epicenter of the outbreak and detect all affected populations.

The four admitted Thursday, stoke the fear of the spread of the virus, since the first cases, whose symptoms may take up to 21 days after the bite of the mosquito, were detected more than five months ago in the city of Ikoko Impenge, and those on Thursday have occurred in the neighboring town located 60 kilometers. The director of Bikoro Hospital, Serge Ngaleto, explained that, of the four people admitted, two are health workers who were in contact with possible infected. "After the contact, the nurses began to show symptoms and we have isolated them," Ngaleto told Reuters. Without preventive measures, the virus can spread quickly, and is fatal in 90% of cases, since, at the moment, there is no official medication to treat it. The hot, humid climate of the country facilitates the spread of dangerous diseases in a country where, so far this year, hundreds of people have died due to Lassa fever, a hemorrhagic fever of the Ebola family.