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article imageWHO races against the clock to contain Ebola outbreak in DR Congo

By Karen Graham     May 18, 2017 in Health
In an update issued on May 18, the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) said a race against the clock has begun to contain the Ebola virus outbreak in the remote northern area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to Time, hundreds of people could already be infected, with WHO confirming the health organization is currently tracking 400 possible contacts with the three people who have already died from the virus.
WHO has also issued an Ebola virus Risk Assessment, with the level being high at a national level, medium at a regional level and currently low at a global level, said Peter Salama, WHO's executive director for health emergencies during a telephone briefing.
"Twenty cases of Ebola have been reported in the DRC's Bas Uele Province – near the vast country's border with the Central African Republic – two have been confirmed by laboratory tests and three people have died so far," the agency is reporting.
WHO is also investigating an outbreak of a disease that shares similar symptoms to Ebola, including vomiting and nausea, in an area several hundred kilometers from Bas-Uele Province. WHO does not believe the two outbreaks are linked at this time.
Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Bas-Uele only has about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) of paved roads and virtually no functioning telecommunications, making accessibility by aid workers very difficult. An additional and very worrisome problem is the insecurity and displacement, particularly due to the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.
A rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army is believed to be active in the province, adding further to the challenges of tracking people who may have been in contact with the three victims who have died from the Ebola virus.
"We cannot underestimate the logistical and practical challenges associated with this response at a very remote part of the country," Salama said on the call. "As of now we do not know the full extent of the outbreak, and as we deploy teams over the next few weeks, we’ll begin to understand more and more exactly what we are dealing with."
A mobile lab is being constructed and then deployed to the area and improvements are being made to a local airfield. The region's telecommunications are also being updated. WHO estimates that the first six months of the operation are expected to cost $10 million.
WHO is hopeful that a promising vaccine for the virus can be used, but because it is still experimental, the DR Congo government must give special permission for its use. The vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV, and showed efficacy and safety during a trial conducted in Guinea, in West Africa, in 2015.
WHO is still waiting for permission to use the vaccine. If permission is given, it will take about a week to ship the vaccine to DRC and get teams ready to carry out the mass vaccination.
More about Ebola, DR Congo, Ebola vaccine, Logistics, Who
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