We prayed for the Ebola virus to be over. Yet, seldom do viruses just disappear. Unfortunately, for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DPC), the Ebola virus which devastated much of western Africa, has well and truly returned. Although, this time the international community, is gearing up for a response.
As three new cases of the frequently lethal Ebola virus have been confirmed in a city where more than 1 million people reside.
Congo’s Health Minister has raised alarms of the spread of the hemorrhagic fever that there are now 17 confirmed cases of the outbreak, including one death as well as scores of probable cases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has decided not to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, acknowledging the spread within Congo as “very high” and extended these warnings to nine neighbouring countries as well. Yet, the WHO stopped short of stating any international travel or trade restrictions.
More than 4,000 doses of an experimental vaccine against Ebola have arrived in the capital Kinshasa, as the DPC government hastens to prevent further outbreak to a virus which has already travelled from a remote rural area to the densely-populated city.
Health officials have been trying to painstakingly track down more than 500 people who have been in contact with those that are feared infected in order to contain the outbreak.
Dr Robert Steffen, who chaired the WHO expert meeting on Friday, said that without a vigorous response, “the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly.”
The UN appears to be more intent than ever to be on top of the outbreak, having previously failed to contain its global reach.
“Ebola spreads rapidly, and this outbreak is in an area where people connect, trade and travel – an environment ripe for spreading disease,” he said.
The UN agency appears to be moving swiftly to contain a flare-up, in what some experts see as a critical test of its credibility.
“The difference between WHO’s response in 2014 and now is like night and day,” said Swiss Professor Suerie Moon, who was part of an independent panel that assessed WHO’s previous performance.
In recent years, the Congolese who have a long history with the Ebola disease were able to successfully contain and extinguished previous outbreaks.
However, this is the ninth Ebola outbreak reported in Congo since 1976, with 811 deaths in total in Congo alone. The sad reality is that nations such as Congo, have trouble containing infectious diseases due to poor health and sanitation facilities.
In 2014-5, the virus spread to numerous African countries including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, where Ebola had been previously been unknown, resulting in more than 11,000 deaths.
The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected.
As a result, local communities are being told to take preventative measures, and not to greet each other by shaking hands or kissing others in case of infection.
Additionally, communities have been banned to bury the dead as well as fulfil traditional rites that included washing the body. This has particularly difficult and distressing for many, as families instead chose to hide the sick and the dead allowing the virus to continued to spread.
There is no specific treatment for the deadly virus, with symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain and at times, internal and external bleeding.
Preparations are now underway for tracking potential cases and providing life-saving vaccinations.