Sunday, November 11, 2018

Ebola in DR Congo

Congolese officials and the World Health Organization officials wear protective suits as they participate in a training against the Ebola virus near the town of Beni in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 11, 2018. Image credit: VOA News

Ebola has reared its head again, this time in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

News of Ebola outbreaks in the country instantly brings to mind the horror of the epidemic that took 11,000 lives and infected 28,000 people in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

The current contagion, which began in July, is the tenth to hit the country since 1976 (when the country was known as Zaire) and is named after the Ebola river. The virus is spread via small amounts of bodily fluid and infection often proves fatal. 

In their latest update, the country's health ministry said 291 cases had been confirmed and 201 deaths had been recorded. 

About half the victims were from Beni, a city of 800,000 in the North Kivu region – where rebel activity is commonplace. 

DR Congo has suffered from years of civil war and political upheaval, that’s why. 

Last week, WHO's director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the lack of security was posing the greatest challenge in countering the ongoing scourge. 

Even if the health authorities are able to defeat Ebola this time around – it is likely to come back. 

According to Dr Charlie Weller, Wellcome Trust’s Head of Vaccines opined that it is unrealistic to expect that we could ever eradicate this disease and impossible to know when or where the next outbreak will occur. 

Ebola is a zoonosis – an animal disease that can jump to humans. The virus infects multiple mammal species but kills most of them. But some other animal must be able to host the virus without dying from it, and fruit bats are the chief suspect. 

And it is also introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, organs or other bodily fluids of any infected animals, e.g. antelope, chimpanzees and gorillas. 

Ebola is endemic to this part of Africa and it is not possible to eradicate all the animals who might be a host for its pathogen. As long as humans come in contact with them, there is always a possibility that the disease could return. 

Rapid medical response is the only way to contain Ebola.

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