Two more people died from Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said, as aid agencies battle to persuade sceptical residents about the severity of an outbreak that has already killed 27.
One death occurred in Mbandaka, according to a daily healthy ministry bulletin. A nurse died in Bikoro, the town near where the outbreak was first detected in early May, ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga told Reuters.
At the central market in Mbandaka, where vendors hawk smoked monkeys, some residents said they were unmoved by warnings not to consume bush meat since a case of Ebola was discovered in the city of 1.5 million last week.
“Despite your Ebola stories, we buy and eat monkey meat,” said Carine, a mother of eight. “We have eaten that since forever. That is not going to change today. Ebola, that’s in Bikoro.”
Experts who studied the Ebola virus since its discovery in 1976 along the Ebola river in Congo, then Zaire, say its suspected origin is forest bats. Links have also been made to carcasses of freshly slaughtered animals eaten as bush meat.
Seven new confirmed cases were also registered in Bikoro, the ministry said, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 28.
CROWDED TRADING HUB
More than 11,300 people died in an Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016, during which health authorities were criticised for slow response.
This time, health officials are concerned by the disease’s presence in Mbandaka, a crowded trading hub on the Congo River with road, water and air links to Kinshasa.
Four cases have been confirmed in the city’s Wangata neighbourhood and two more are suspected.
The urban setting sets this outbreak apart from eight others in Congo since the 1970s in mostly containable, rural settings.
Government and international partners deployed significant resources to Equateur province. Health officials administered an experimental vaccine on Monday to 33 medical workers and Mbandaka residents, World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.
The WHO said vaccine manufacturer Merck provided it with 8,640 doses of the vaccine and an additional 8,000 doses are expected to be available in the coming days.
The vaccine takes seven to 10 days to generate a strong enough immune response to ensure full protection. Those vaccinated are instructed to follow the same strict infection control and hygiene practices as anyone who is not vaccinated.
The US government has added $7 million to the initial $1 million it previously committed to fighting the virus in Congo, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.
The World Bank Group’s Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility on Tuesday approved a $12 million grant towards efforts to contain the virus.
“The risk of spreading in the country and to neighbouring nations remains real,” said Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “One lesson we learned in our response to other deadly Ebola outbreaks is complacency can kill.”
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has deployed 25 epidemiologists to Mbandaka and Bikoro to support government’s surveillance work, director John Nkengasong told a news briefing.
It hopes to move a mobile laboratory from Sierra Leone to Congo that could, among others, help detect the presence of the virus in human samples and conduct genetic sequencing to see if it is mutating.