1056 GMT December 15, 2018
There have been 32 probable and suspected cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever reported since April 4, including 18 deaths, according to WHO. Ebola takes sophisticated lab tests to confirm, so only two cases have been confirmed thus far, huffingtonpost.co.uk wrote.
Three affected patients, one of whom has died, were health care workers. That’s especially worrisome to experts because medical professionals come into close contact with many people. During the major Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016, local health care workers were instrumental in alerting authorities to the outbreak but also played a role in spreading the disease early on. That outbreak ultimately killed some 11,300 people and infected 28,600 across West Africa. WHO was deeply criticized for its ‘egregious failure’ to respond sooner to the large-scale tragedy.
WHO and the DRC are taking a multi-pronged approach to contain this new outbreak in a remote northwestern part of the country, including moving vaccines at sub-zero temperatures. They’re also monitoring for any signs that the disease is spreading along the Congo River and across borders.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has worried global health experts by proposing to rescind agencies’ Ebola funding left over from the last major outbreak and ousting his top global health security adviser the same week as the new outbreak was declared.
Cases are clustered at three locations within a roughly 37-mile area near the town of Bikoro, said Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, during a UN briefing in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s been described as a ‘dire scene’, he said.
“This is going to be tough, and it’s going to be costly to stamp out this outbreak,” Salama warned.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, is traveling to the DRC this weekend to oversee the response.
The global health organization is looking to establish an ‘air bridge’ to move supplies by plane into the affected area. Helicopters are also being deployed to get experts and medical care to the scene. All of that, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told HuffPost, is expensive, with the agency announcing Friday that the cost of the estimated three-month operation could run to $18 million.
To that end, WHO has already approved $1 million of funding through its Contingency Fund for Emergencies. The London-based Wellcome Trust, a global health charity, has also pledged two million pounds ― about $2.7 million ― which will be matched by another million pounds from the British government. The US has not announced any standalone contributions as yet.
WHO is talking with the DRC government about using the still-experimental Merck vaccine, which showed great promise during a trial conducted amidst the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak. Health Minister Oly Ilunga said health care workers would be a priority if the vaccine is deployed, according to Reuters.
The DRC government had previously approved use of the vaccine during a small Ebola outbreak last year. But by the time officials were ready to go, the infection had been contained by traditional measures such as quarantine and contact tracing.
This is not a simple logistical effort ― this is a highly complex, sophisticated operation in one of the most difficult terrains on Earth.