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KINSHASA, Congo, June 8, 2018 (News Wires) - Congo's health ministry says another Ebola case has been confirmed as the pace of new cases slows one month after the outbreak was officially declared. There are now 38 confirmed cases of the virus, including 13 deaths, the health ministry said late Thursday. The newest confirmed case is in rural Iboko and is linked to a probable Ebola case who died May 20, the ministry said.

The outbreak which began in the remote northwest and was declared in the town of Bikoro has spread to the city of Mbandaka with a population of more than one million. That has complicated efforts to track contacts of those infected.

The World Health Organization, which was giving a briefing Friday on the outbreak, has vaccinated more than 1,000 people over the past two weeks, including health workers who are at high risk. The virus spreads via bodily fluids of infected people, including the dead.

Health workers have visited more than 10,000 households in Mbandaka to raise awareness about Ebola, WHO said.

Exit screening measures have been put in place to prevent the international spread of the virus, and WHO said it is supporting efforts by nine neighboring countries to scale up emergency response and preparedness.

Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are closest to the outbreak, but Congo is also bordered by Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

WHO says the Ebola response will cost more than $15.5 million over nine months.

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the hemorrhagic fever was first identified.

Three new cases of the often lethal Ebola virus have been confirmed in a city of more than 1 million people, Congo's health ministerannounced late Friday, as the spread of the hemorrhagic fever in an urban area raised alarm.

The minister's statement said the confirmed cases are in Mbandaka city, where a single case was confirmed earlier in the week.

There are now 17 confirmed Ebola cases in this outbreak, including one death, plus 21 probable cases and five suspected ones.

 By Amina Abdul Salam

A campaign launched under the slogan "Tobacco Breaks Hearts. Choose health not tobacco" has been launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners to mark World No Tobacco Day.

It highlights the health and other risks associated with tobacco use and calls for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of premature death and disability worldwide. It is also a key risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.

“In most countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disease”, says Dr Jaouad Mahjour, Acting WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Large sections of the public do not realise that tobacco is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Thus, on World No Tobacco Day this year, WHO aims to increase public awareness on the link between tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke and cardiovascular disease.

“Tobacco use in the region has risen among men, women, boys and girls”, says Dr Mahjour. “In some countries of the region, 52 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women use tobacco. The rates among youth are particularly worrying. They can reach 42 per cent among boys and 31 per cent among girls. This includes shisha (water pipe) smoking which is more popular among the youth than cigarettes.”

On the eve of World No Tobacco Day 2018, WHO encourages:
– cardiovascular communities and specialists to take charge, educate and lead to limit tobacco use and so contain this cardiovascular disease epidemic at national and regional levels;
– The public at large to make every effort to reduce the risks to their heart health by quitting tobacco, avoiding its use and exposure to secondhand smoke;
– Governments to take all possible action to control tobacco use and raise public awareness of the link between tobacco use and heart disease;
– Countries and civil society to scale up prevention and control of cardiovascular disease by intensifying action on the six MPower measures in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and so reduce demand for tobacco.

The six MPower measures are: monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; protect people from tobacco smoke; offer help to quit; warn about the dangers; enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and raise taxes on tobacco.

KINSHASA, Congo, May 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Congo's latest Ebola outbreak does not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Friday, as health officials rushed to contain the often deadly virus that has spread to a city of more than 1 million.

The vast, impoverished country now has 14 confirmed Ebola cases, with dozens of others probable or suspected.

WHO officials, speaking after an experts' meeting on the outbreak, said vaccinations plan to begin on Sunday in a key test of an experimental vaccine.

The health agency called the risk to the public in Congo "very high" and the regional risk high, with the global risk low. The Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are nearby.

Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge. The city of Mbandaka, which has one confirmed Ebola case, is an hour's flight from the capital, Kinshasa, and is located on the Congo River, a busy travel corridor.

For a health crisis to constitute a global health emergency it must meet three criteria stipulated by WHO: It must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease, it must be a "serious, unusual or unexpected" situation and it may require immediate international action for containment.

Ebola has twice made it to Congo's capital in the past and was rapidly stopped. Congo has had the most Ebola outbreaks of any country, and Dr. David Heymann, a former WHO director who has led numerous responses to Ebola, said authorities there have considerable expertise in halting the lethal virus.

The Ebola vaccine proved highly effective in the West Africa outbreak a few years ago, although the vaccine was used long after the epidemic had peaked. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week. One challenge will be keeping the vaccine cold in a region with poor infrastructure and patchy electricity.

Just one Ebola death in the current outbreak has been confirmed so far. Congo's health ministry late Thursday said the total number of cases is 45, including 10 suspected and 21 probable ones.

The health ministry said two new deaths have been tied to the cases, including one in a suburb of Mbandaka. The other was in Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week. It is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Mbandaka.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak," Dr. Peter Salama, WHO's emergency response chief, warned on Thursday after the first urban case was announced. "Urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

Until now, the outbreak had been confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, travels more slowly.

Doctors Without Borders said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people were being monitored. WHO said it was deploying about 30 more experts to Mbandaka.

Amid fears of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries, the U.N. migration agency said Friday it would support the deployment of Congolese health teams to 16 entry points along the nearby border with the Republic of Congo for infection control and prevention.

The U.N. children's agency said it was mobilizing hundreds of community workers to raise awareness on protection against the disease.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Mbandaka (DR Congo), May 12, 2018 (News Wires) - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) was due in DR Congo on Saturday to aid preparations for "all scenarios" in combatting the latest Ebola outbreak.

"WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is on his way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the needs of the response first-hand. We are preparing for all scenarios," the UN health agency said in a statement.

The outbreak in the region northest of Kinshasa near the border with the Republic of Congo has so far killed 18 people around the town of Bikoro in Equateur province, according to the WHO.

WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama said Friday getting aid to the affected area was "extremely challenging" given its remoteness and lack of infrastructure.

"We know the number of suspected, probable and confirmed cases is significant. We are very concerned and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario," he said.

DRC health ministry Ebola responders have been dispatched to the affected area with a joint WHO and UNICEF team following.

"We are about to go to Bikoro after this stop at (regional capital) Mbandaka where we began the deployment of mobile labs to start analyses" of suspect cases," Eugene Kabambi, leading the WHO communications team in DR Congo, told AFP Saturday, adding his team hoped to obtain results swiftly.

He said Health Minister Oly Ilunga had alerted local people to the ongoing risk.

The WHO has made $1 million (842,000 euros) available to stop the virus spreading, judging that risk was "high," a representative of the UN's humanitarian affairs agency OCHA told reporters Friday.

DR Congo has endured nine known outbreaks of Ebola since 1976, when the deady viral disease was first identified in then Zaire by a Belgian-led team.

KINSHASA, May 11, 2018 (News Wires) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday it was preparing for "the worst case scenario" in a fresh outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"We are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst case scenario," the WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO has tallied 32 suspected or confirmed cases in the northwestern area of Bikoro, on the shores of Lake Tumbathe near the border with the Republic of Congo, including 18 deaths, between April 4 and May 9.

The cases include three healthcare workers, including one who has died, Salama said.

The outbreak, declared by the DRC health ministry on Tuesday, is the DRC's ninth known outbreak of Ebola since 1976, when the deady viral disease was first identified in then-Zaire by a Belgian-led team.

Salama said the affected region of the vast strife-torn central African country is very remote and hard to reach, with a dire lack of functioning infrastructure.

"Access is extremely difficult... It is basically 15 hours by motorbike from the closest town," he said.

WHO already has a team on the ground and is preparing to send up to 40 more specialists in epidemiology, logistics, contact tracing and other areas to the region in the coming week or so.

Salama also said the UN health organisation hoped to have a mobile lab up and running on site this weekend.

At the same time, WHO and the World Food Programme are working to set up an "air-bridge" to help bring in the supplies needed, he said, adding though that only helicopters could be used until an airfield could be cleared to allow larger planes to land.

The response "is going to be extremely challenging, and very costly," he said.

The WHO is also awaiting a green light from DRC authorities to begin a vaccination campaign in the area, using an available stockpile of an experimental vaccine, he said.

As for the risk, Salama said WHO was especially concerned about the near-term spread of the disease, including to Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, which has around one million inhabitants and is only a few hours away from Bikoro.

"If we see a town of that size infected with Ebola, then we are going to have a major urban outbreak," he warned.

In addition, he said that the surrounding nine countries had been put on "high alert". The WHO was especially concerned about the possible spread to neighbouring Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, which has connections to the affected area through the river systems.

He stressed however that the possibility of international spread of the disease was still considered "low", but said the situation was constantly being evaluated.

 

DAKAR, Senegal, May 11, 2018 (AP) - Ebola vaccines will be shipped "as quickly as possible" to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the number of suspected cases in the latest outbreak grows, the head of the World Health Organization said on Friday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus in a Twitter post said the agreement was made in a phone call with Congo's health minister on Thursday. WHO still needs Congo's final authorization, which is expected in the coming days, Dr. Peter Salama, the agency's emergencies chief, told reporters in Geneva.

Two cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the latest outbreak in a remote northwestern part of Congo.

The country's health minister on Thursday announced the first death since the outbreak was declared early this week, though the hemorrhagic fever blamed for the death has not been confirmed as Ebola. Nine other suspected cases were announced Thursday.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. A new experimental vaccine has been shown to be highly effective, though quantities are currently limited.

"The problem here is that we already have three separate locations that are reporting cases that cover as much as 60 kilometers (37 miles) and maybe more," Salama said. "We have three health care workers infected and one who has been reported as of yesterday as having died. And we know that health care workers can really be an amplification factor for these kinds of outbreaks.

"And we know the number of suspected probable and confirmed cases is significant. So we are very concerned."

While the risk of the latest outbreak spreading into other countries is low, nine nearby countries have been put on high alert, Salama said.

It is "absolutely a dire scene in terms of infrastructure" as medical teams try to contain the outbreak in a region with poor water and sanitation, few paved roads and little electricity, he said.