WHO sees Congo's Ebola outbreak lasting 3-4 months at least

Reuters Geneva, Switzerland Oct 11, 2018, 09.24 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

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Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola outbreak is expected to last several months and could spread at any time to Uganda or Rwanda, which are well prepared but have not approved use of a vaccine, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola outbreak is expected to last several months and could spread at any time to Uganda or Rwanda, which are well prepared but have not approved use of a vaccine, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

But the most concerning area is the city of Beni in Congo's North Kivu province, where dozens of people who may have been exposed to the deadly disease are hiding from health workers, emergency response chief Peter Salama told Reuters. 

"We anticipate that now we’ll be looking at least at another 3-4 months in order to really stem this outbreak, with a strong focus in Beni and surrounding areas," Salama said. "I’d say that’s the best case scenario.”

The outbreak has now caused 194 cases and 122 deaths, and two-thirds of cases in the past month have been in and around Beni, where the Ebola response was disrupted last month by a spate of attacks by armed groups and a period of official mourning.

The next few days will tell if the recent wave of infections in Beni is over, he said, depending on the security situation and the local community`s willingness to support the response.

"If, however, this peak is accompanied by a peak in insecurity which limits our ability to get to all these cases and their contacts, then we could see a much larger wave building. A lot is depending on that security situation," Salama said.

Many of the new cases are already known to healthworkers as people who have had contact with recorded Ebola patients. On average, 80-90 per cent of people with potential Ebola exposure are being monitored on a daily basis.

But a smaller number, around 40 or more, are "actively avoiding follow-up" and have not been found for days on end, increasing the risk of the disease spreading, Salama said. More than 90 per cent of those people were in Beni, he added.

Some Ebola victims are suspicious of healthworkers, fearing that hospitalisation is a death sentence - despite the obvious risks of missing out on treatment - while families believe that bodies may not be returned for traditional burials.

Local authorities in Beni have threatened people who harbour suspected patients with three-month jail sentences.