The Express: THE World Health Organisation (WHO) will convene an emergency meeting on Wednesday to decide whether eastern Congo’s Ebola outbreak is a public health emergency of international concern, following a spike in confirmed cases and attacks on health workers.
The African country’s second major Ebola virus outbreak since January is already nearly twice as deadly as the first and shows no sign of abating.
The committee of experts is expected to make recommendations to manage the outbreak, which was declared on August 1 and has worsened, threatening to spread into neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.
On Monday, Congo’s health ministry said that in the past week alone 33 people had been confirmed with Ebola virus and 24 of them had died. The latest cases were recorded between October 8 and October 14, health officials said.
More than 200 suspected cases of the virus, which causes a deadly haemorrhagic fever, have been reported in this outbreak, the country’s second this year. All but a dozen of them have been confirmed, while some 130 people have died since July.
Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims. The health ministry said that 73 patients had received new experimental treatments. Of them, just over half recovered, 20 were still in hospital and the rest have died.
The number of new cases per day has more than doubled since September, as fear and suspicion of medical authorities and worsening security conditions are hindering efforts at containment, according to local aid agencies.
“The current spike in Ebola cases and deaths is extremely worrying,” a spokesperson for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said last week.
The outbreak is centred in the city of Beni, where rebels killed at least 18 people in an attack last month, forcing health workers to suspend operations for several days.
Four civilians were killed in another attack near Beni last Tuesday, according to the United Nations. The IRC suspended programmes the next day, resuming later in the week but only within the city’s limits.
The region has been a hot spot of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s.
“It’s likely that the forced suspension in programming due to insecurity and community resistance in and around Beni are major factors in this [worsening epidemic],” Michelle Gayer, IRC’s senior director of emergency health, said.
The Red Cross also expressed concern that violence was contributing to the rise in Ebola cases in the conflict-hit region, adding that this could be a “tipping point for an accelerated spread of the disease.”
“Conspiracy theories, fear and mistrust around the disease have caused people to resist help and hide symptoms,” Red Cross spokesman Euloge Ishimwe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The deadly outbreak is expected to last “at least” another three or four months, but if insecurity continues there could be “a much larger wave building,” the WHO has warned.
“And there shall be… pestilences… in diverse places.” Matthew 24:7.