Following a number of reported cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the WHO has now raised the risks to “very high” in the region. The new warning come after a case of the disease was detected in Mbandaka – a large city with around 1.2 million residents.
According to a WHO statement: “The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban center located on major national and international river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighboring countries.”
What are the risks?
In an interview, the country’s health minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga said that the discovery of the case in Mbandaka indicates a “new phase” of the outbreak. So far, there have been a total of 45 cases reported, including 25 deaths and fourteen laboratory confirmed cases. However, previous infections had only been reported in the Bikoro region, which is around 150 km away from the city.
This has led to fears that the disease could spread quickly if not controlled. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general said: “This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola. WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus.”
The WHO also noted that despite the national risks being “very high”, the global risk level is still low at this stage. The foreign office advice is that people should avoid “all but essential travel to the Equateur province” and that travellers should check the WHO website for updates. The CDC added that anyone who has travelled to the region in the last 21 days or has been in contact with someone who has should be watchful for symptoms, and seek medical help if they are concerned.
What will happen next?
The WHO’s International Health Regulations emergency committee will meet to discuss if the outbreak is a concern to the global community. In addition, International Organization for Migration have detailed plans to send teams of medical staff to the region and along the country’s borders. Border health staff will implement disease control measure to try to and contain the outbreak and stop it spreading to other countries. The regions affected have also been provided with hygiene supplies and hand washing points.
Dr. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo said: “It is crucial that communities understand how to protect themselves at home and in public places, especially in health facilities and schools. Experience in previous outbreaks has shown that when we engage communities in prevention efforts, we stand the best chance of containing the disease.”