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WHO raises concern over potential Ebola spread in DR Congo, beyond

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Amidst the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still battling the Ebola outbreak that has claimed many lives in the conflict-ridden country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday raised fears over the possible spread of the disease to neighbouring Republic of Congo and even the capital, Kinshasa.

According to a report on UN News, the outbreak in Equateur Province emerged in early June and has now spread into another of its 17 health zones, bringing the total number of affected zones to 12. So far, there have been 113 cases and 48 deaths.

“The most recently affected area, Bomongo, is the second affected health zone that borders the Republic of Congo, which heightens the chances of this outbreak to spread into another country,” WHO spokesperson, Fadéla Chaib said.

Ebola is a viral haemorrhagic fever of humans and it has become endemic in the DRC. The country is presently battling its 11th outbreak in over 40 years.

Apart from the Ebola outbreak, DRC is battling a measles outbreak of more than 300,000 cases and more than 6,000 deaths since 2019.

The country is also facing the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 10,300 cases and 260 deaths across the African nation as of Friday.

Logistical challenges, community resistance

This is the second Ebola outbreak in Equateur Province and the 11th overall in the DRC, which recently defeated the disease in its volatile eastern region after a two-year battle.

This latest western outbreak first surfaced in the city of Mbandaka, home to more than one million people, and subsequently spread to 11 health zones, with active transmission currently occurring in eight.

The report noted that the health zones all border one other and cover a large and remote area often only accessible by helicopter or boat.

Managing response logistics in Equateur is difficult as communities are very scattered. Many are in deeply forested areas and reaching them requires travelling long distances, the report noted.

Ms Chaib said that community resistance is also a challenge in some areas.

“We learned over years of working on Ebola in DRC how important it is to engage and mobilize communities. WHO is working with UNICEF in engaging religious, youth and community leaders to raise awareness about Ebola,” she said.

Response ‘grossly underfunded’

The WHO and partners have been on the ground since the early days of the outbreak.

More than 90 experts are in Equateur, and additional staff have recently been deployed from the capital, including experts in epidemiology, vaccination, community engagement, infection prevention and control, laboratory and treatment.

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Nearly one million travellers have been screened, which helped identify some 72 suspected Ebola cases, thus reducing further spread.

However, the UN agency warned that the response is “grossly underfunded”.

WHO has provided some $2.3 million in support so far, and has urged donors to back a $40 million plan by the Congolese government.

Ms Chaib said without extra funding, it will be even harder to defeat Ebola amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.



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