Congo: First Ebola case in metropolis

politics Congo: First Ebola case in metropolis Stand: 06:24 clock | Reading time: 3 minutes Current outbreak reaches a new phase I In the history of the metropolis of Mbandaka in northwestern Congo, one or two dark chapters are to be found. In the mid-1990s, hundreds of Rwandan refugees, most of them Hutus, were massacred by rebels. Today, the 1.2 million city on the Equator is not one of the many conflict regions in the Congo. But the suffering of its inhabitants is enormous, it lacks electricity and clean water. They live in one of those places where in serious illness more hope is placed in prayer than in hospitals. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the first Ebola case in Mbandaka. Thus, the current outbreak of the virus has reached “a new phase”, the Congolese Ministry of Health announced. So far, the situation was considered largely controllable. Forty-two people have been infected with the virus nationwide in recent weeks, 23 of them have died. However, this also includes unconfirmed suspected cases, as a cause of death, the virus has been proven beyond doubt only in two cases. In some cases the symptoms are similar to malaria. The authorities are aware that this is the ninth Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country has experienced more than half of the world’s 17 known crises since the 1970s. As in the previous eight cases, it once again took place in a very remote region of the country, far away from major trade routes. Propagation was considered unlikely, especially as the WHO responded quickly and released resources to treat and isolate patients. You are not so sure anymore. The bustling port city of Mbandaka is located on the banks of the Congo River, through which numerous goods are shipped to the capital, Kinshasa. People are far more mobile than in the villages, the population density is higher – no good conditions for the search for people who had come into contact with patients. Already, authorities and aid agencies estimate the number of citizens who could have come into contact with infected people in the villages at 500 to 4000. They would have to be regularly examined for possible symptoms by the end of the three-week incubation period. To a long time ago not all could be made contact. On the other bank, opposite Mbandaka, is also the border with neighboring Congo. A spread to several countries, as evidenced by the Ebola outbreak in 2014 with 11,300 deaths in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, would further complicate the coordination of the measures. “With the case in Mbandaka, the situation has become extremely serious and worrying, as the disease first reached a city,” says Henry Gray, MSF emergency coordinator. At present, 50 tonnes of materials are on their way to the city, and in the heavily affected Bikoro they are each building a treatment center with 20 beds each. The epidemic of four years ago was causing panic worldwide, and MSF was tirelessly pointing to the sloppy response of WHO at the time. The current situation in the Congo is “very different,” reassuring the relief workers this time, not all the lessons learned then would have to be applied. However, the structure of the centers will be improved so that the isolated patients will at least be able to make eye contact with their relatives. Efforts are also being made to improve the coordination of the institutions involved. This time, the WHO is trying everything so far so as not to show any nakedness. Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus traveled to the country immediately. On Wednesday, a shipment of 4,000 doses of a yet-to-be-licensed vaccine arrived in Kinshasa, with another 4,000 to follow soon. There is still optimism to stop the virus soon. But there is no room for error.

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