The death toll from an Ebola outbreak in DR Congo rose above 1,000 on Friday, with attacks on treatment centres hampering efforts to control “intense transmission” of the second worst epidemic of the virus on record.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) expected the nine-month outbreak to continue spreading though the east of the country and announced plans to expand vaccinations once a new treatment by Johnson & Johnson is approved.
The WHO is already using an experimental vaccine made by Merck.
Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said supplies were plentiful but hostility towards medical staff made it difficult to reach affected communities.
He told reporters in Geneva 119 attacks were documented since January and as a result, “we anticipate a scenario of continued intense transmission”.
More than 100,000 people have been vaccinated to date and treatment has been effective, the WHO said.
The Merck vaccine will be used in “ring vaccination” of people exposed to the virus and their contacts, Ryan said, but the WHO is studying use of a single dose to stretch supplies, an option experts will review.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine wollbe deployed outside the rings in surrounding areas to protect people from infection, “as a way of laying down a barrier to the virus”, Ryan said.
Congo’s Health Ministry said on Friday that 14 new Ebola deaths were recorded, taking the toll to 1,008 deaths from confirmed and probable cases.
Only the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa was deadlier. More than 11,000 people died then out of 28,000 infected.
Despite significant medical advances, including vaccine and experimental treatments, health officials struggle to control the current outbreak because of the violence and community mistrust in eastern Congo, where dozens of militias are active.
Militiamen attacked a hospital treating Ebola patients two weeks ago, killing a senior WHO epidemiologist and wounding two others.
“The numbers are nothing short of terrifying,” said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the global health charity the Wellcome Trust.
“This epidemic will not be brought under control without a significant shift in response,” he said. “Community trust and safety, as well as community engagement and ownership of the response is critical.”
There was an attempted assault on an Ebola treatment facility in Butembo on Thursday. No-one was injured and the assailants were captured, Ryan said.