WAHO calls for regional preparedness as Ebola hits DR Congo

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Director General of West African Health Organisation (WAHO) Stanley Okolo has called on  regional countries to remain alert as the Ebola epidemic resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“This is a wake-up call on all member countries to always remain alert and prepared,” he said in a press release in Banjul.

Okolo said WAHO has already sent information to the countries reminding them of the international disease surveillance records and regulations that they should use.

“We have also helped some of the countries in terms of support for monitoring travelers at borders who are coming in from the DRC,” he said.

WAHO liaison officers representing the regional countries are currently discussing health problems including disease surveillance and insufficient health care budgeting in Banjul ahead of the 19th Ordinary Assembly of ECOWAS Ministers on Tuesday, when key decisions will be adopted.

Ebola spreads easily through bodily fluids and the medical strategy involves vaccinating all the people a patient may have infected and then vaccinating a second “ring” of contacts around each of those potential sufferers.

The VSV-EBOV vaccine, developed by Merck, has been administered to 1,112 people, including 567 in the northwestern city.

The ministry said that covers all known contacts of confirmed Ebola cases in the city as well as those people’s contacts.

There have been no new deaths from Ebola since May 25 and the last confirmed case was recorded on May 29, although health officials say it is too soon to make any definitive pronouncements about the outbreak’s course.

The latest data from the health ministry shows 53 cases of Ebola in the outbreak, including 37 confirmed, 13 probable and three suspected cases.

One new suspected case was recorded on Monday in the rural community of Iboko and five suspected cases came back negative, the health ministry said.

This is the ninth outbreak of Ebola in Congo since the disease was first detected in the country in 1976.

Health officials have moved aggressively to head off a repeat of the 2013-16 outbreak in West Africa that killed over 11,300 people.

The vaccine was first rolled out in Mbandaka on May 21 and hailed as a paradigm shift in the fight against Ebola by the WHO.

The WHO said on Friday that it was cautiously optimistic about the progress of the response yet Mbandaka’s location directly upstream the Congo River of the capital Kinshasa, a city of more than 10 million people, remains a concern.