The outbreak in two eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become the worst known epidemic of the deadly Ebola virus in the history of the country.
The Congolese Ministry of Health said on Saturday that 326 people were infected with the Ebola virus in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
This causes the outbreak to be worse than the 1976 epidemic in Yambuku, which infected 318 people and 280 killed. This explosion was the first time scientists identified what is currently the most lethal strain of the Ebola virus. The explosion in the city of Kikwit in 1995 infected 315 people, of whom 250 died.
The current epidemic is currently the third worst epidemic of the Ebola virus in modern history. The outbreak in West Africa in 2013-2015 infects over 28,600 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Bonfire in Uganda in 2000. The Ebola virus strain in Sudan infected over 400 people.
After the initial emergence of control, the number of cases in the province of North Kivu increased in September and October, alarming public health officials around the world. In the Capitol briefing last week, Robert Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that the epidemic could spread so widely that the Ebola virus could become endemic to Central Africa.
The Congolese Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders have sent hundreds of people to the epicenter of the epidemic. They have vaccinated over 28,000 people, including those who have been exposed to the Ebola virus and first-line health care workers who would be the most vulnerable to the virus.
But the reaction was partly hampered by an unstable security situation in which dozens of armed groups against the government threatened or attacked health care workers.
Bombardment at the end of August, accused of Islamist fighters from abroad in Uganda, closed the response in the city of Beni for a few days, allowing the virus to continue to spread. Last month, two health workers employed by the Congolese army were killed in an ambush.
"No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing." Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical attacks, recurrent equipment damage and kidnapping, "Oly Ilunga Kalenga, Congolese Minister of Health , he said in a statement.
The current outbreak began at the end of July, probably when the virus spread to a funeral by the family of a woman who became ill. The virus later spread to Beni, a regional shopping center with a quarter of a million inhabitants. From there it spread to Butembo, an international shopping center on the border with Uganda.
About half of the cases identified so far, 159, appeared in Beni. Another 36 people were identified in Butembo. The World Health Organization has sent help to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, waiting for the chance that the virus will cross borders.
"There is a difficult way to control the intense transmission in the city of Beni and the emerging hotspots in the villages around Beni and Butembo," said the World Health Organization in a weekly assessment of the situation in the field.
North Kivu is home to about eight million people, of whom about one million after ethnic displacements are internally displaced. It is the largest province in Congo outside the capital, Kinshasa.
Oliver Johnson, a visiting lecturer on global health at King & # 39; s College London and co-author of the book "Getting to Zero" devoted to the Ebola epidemic in Africa 2014-2015 in West Africa, said the conflict in eastern Congo sparked distrust of the government in Kinshasa and any international groups that may appear on the scene to try and help.
"There are many suspicions that news about Ebola and the epidemic are false and part of a conspiracy, which makes it very difficult to convince people to seek treatment or change behavior to protect themselves," Johnson said in a Sunday email. "There is a real challenge when respondents get physical access to affected communities – whether to take a sick ambulance to take them to a treatment center to get involved in the community to prevent the further spread or distribution of the vaccine."
Violence in North Kivu has limited the American response to the outbreak of the epidemic. After the attack on the base of the Congolese Army in August, the State Department ordered the removal of respondents from the American Agency for International Development and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first to the regional capital, Goma, and then to Kinshasa, 1,700 miles from the epicenter of the epidemic.
Moving CDC field workers back to the capital "is responding to the risk of failure at a critical moment," Johnson said.
The World Health Organization has announced that 29 new cases have appeared in the region over the last week. Among the new victims were three health professionals.
The WHO stated that the risk of spreading the virus across national or international borders "remains very high." The Ministry of Health has deployed Readiness Experts in ten provinces in North Kivu.
Health officials oversee 5,400 people who have been in contact with victims of Ebola, a practice known as contact tracking, to obtain new cases for treatment at the first symptom of infection.
"The epidemic remains dangerous and unpredictable, and we can not let our vigilance decline," said Health Minister Ilung Kalenga. "We must continue to strive for a very dynamic response that requires constant adjustments and real responsibility at the community level."