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Africa

Hundreds infected in worst Ebola outbreak in Congo’s history

  • Confirmation of new cases has accelerated in the last month
  • Health officials have vaccinated more than 27,000 high-risk contacts
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 11:04pm

Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak is the worst in the country’s recorded history with 319 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry said.

The deadly virus has killed about 198 people since the outbreak was declared August 1 in the volatile east, the ministry said. Those dead include 163 confirmed Ebola cases, with 35 probable deaths. Nearly 100 people have survived Ebola.

This is Congo’s 10th outbreak since 1976, when the haemorrhagic fever was first identified in Yambuku, in the Equateur province, the ministry said.

Health Minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga said that the figures now exceed that outbreak.

“No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing,” Kalenga said.

“Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical assaults, repeated destruction of their equipment, and kidnapping. Two of our colleagues in the Rapid Response Medical Unit even lost their lives in an attack.”

Armed groups vying for control of Congo’s mineral-rich east have staged regular attacks in Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces, complicating the response by health officials who are also meeting community resistance.

Health officials, however, have managed to vaccinate more than 27,000 high-risk contacts, of which at least half could have developed Ebola, the health minister said.

“This epidemic remains dangerous and unpredictable, and we must not let our guard down. We must continue to pursue a very dynamic response that requires permanent readjustments and real ownership at the community level,” he said.

The head of UN peacekeeping operations vowed last week to do more with Congo’s government to help improve security in the country’s east.

With over 300 cases the epidemic also ranks as third worst in the history of the continent, following the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa where over 28,000 cases were confirmed and an outbreak in Uganda in 2000 involving 425 cases.

This is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in Congo’s far northeast. The health ministry has said teams responding to the Ebola outbreak are attacked three or four times a week on average, a level of violence unseen in the country’s nine previous outbreaks of the virus.

Ebola is spread via the body fluids of infected people, including the dead.