Nine new suspected cases of Ebola were reported in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo as authorities tackling the outbreak face challenges including resistance by local communities and multiple chains of transmission.
Fifty-eight cases, including 30 confirmed and 14 probable, have been registered since the outbreak was declared on May 8, Congo’s Health Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Of the nine new suspected cases, three are in Mbandaka, a provincial capital of 1.2 million inhabitants where four cases have so far been confirmed. Twenty-seven people have died, according to the World Health Organization.
Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak was first identified around the remote town of Bikoro, 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Mbandaka. The detection of the virus in an urban center connected by busy river routes to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, home to about 12 million people, as well as cities in the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, has fueled concerns the disease could spread more widely.
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On Monday, the Health Ministry and WHO launched a “ring vaccination” campaign in Mbandaka and Bikoro with the still-unlicensed rVSV-ZEBOV treatment, whose manufacturer, Merck & Co., has donated 7,540 doses that arrived in Congo last week. Another 8,000 doses will be made available, the WHO said.
Health professionals who’ve been exposed to confirmed cases, as well the patients’ direct and indirect contacts, will be offered the vaccination. Over 600 people have been traced, the WHO said Wednesday.
This week, three people confirmed to be carrying Ebola were removed by their families from an isolation ward in Mbandaka, the Health Ministry said. Two have died while one has returned to hospital and is under observation.
“All efforts were made by staff to convince the patients, as well as their families, to not leave the center,” but “Ebola treatment centers are not prisons,” the ministry said. “Even in an epidemic period, health professionals have the duty to respect the will and dignity of patients.”