Congo to begin Ebola vaccinations on Monday


MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21 (Reuters) – Health workers in Democratic Republic of Congo will begin a vaccination campaign on Monday aimed at containing an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, a spokeswoman for the health ministry said.

Jessica Ilunga said 4,000 doses of vaccine were shipped on
Saturday to Mbandaka, which last week registered the first cases
in an urban area since the latest flare-up of the disease was
announced earlier this month.

Cases in Mbandaka, a port city on the Congo river, have
raised concerns that the virus could spread downstream to the
capital Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million.

The outbreak is Congo’s ninth since the disease made its
first known appearance near the vast central African country’s
northern Ebola river in the 1970s. An Ebola epidemic killed more
than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2013 to 2016.

“I don’t know how to protect myself against Ebola. God alone
can protect me from this illness,” said Lusya Mbangu, who was
selling fish at Mbandaka’s bustling floating market on Sunday.

According to Congolese health ministry data released late on
Saturday, there have been four cases of Ebola confirmed through
testing in Mbandaka’s Wangata neighbourhood and another two
suspected cases.

One patient has died there, the figures showed.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has established an
isolation ward at a hospital in Wangata, where health personnel
could be seen being sprayed with disinfectant before entering
the facility on Sunday.

“The building does not conform to international regulations
but we have reorganised it … to make sure there is no
contamination,” Dr Hilaire Mazibu told Reuters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that
Ebola — which causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea
and is spread through direct contact with body fluids from an
infected person — had killed 25 people since early April.

Confirmation of the disease in Mbandaka, a city of about 1.5
million people, prompted the WHO last week to declare a “very
high” public health risk for the country and a “high” risk for
the region. But it said the outbreak could be brought under
control and was not yet an international public health

“Previous outbreaks have demonstrated the importance of a
rapid and well-resourced response in order to save lives, but
also prevent an exponential increase in the economic cost of a
response,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Sunday.

The U.N. health body was heavily criticised as too slow to
declare an international emergency during the 2013-2016 epidemic
that spread through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and
infected nearly 30,000 people.

Jasarevic said the WHO was seeking $26 million to fund the
Ebola response in Congo.

The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of the vaccine developed by
Merck to Congo. It is also in talks about a second
vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.

More than 30 health workers with experience administering
Ebola vaccines are being deployed from Guinea to help with the
campaign in Congo. Logistical difficulties remain, especially
the need to keep the vaccine 80 degrees Celsius below freezing
in a humid region where daytime temperatures hover around 30 and
power supplies are erratic.

A government spokesman said late on Saturday that Congo’s
partners had promised to make available 300,000 doses of