The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sunday called for free and secure access in responding to the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the first time that the disease has struck a densely populated active conflict zone.
A little more than a week since the DRC declared the new Ebola outbreak, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, and WHO Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response Dr. Peter Salama, went on a two-day mission to the city of Beni and to the Mangina health area in North Kivu province, the DRC. Mangina, which is 30 km from Beni, lies at the epicenter of the epidemic and accounts for most of the confirmed cases so far.
"WHO is calling for free and secure access by all responders to the affected populations," said Dr. Tedros after the visit. "All of those participating in the response must be able to move freely and safely in conflict areas to do the work that is needed to bring the outbreak under control. The population must also have access to treatment centers that save lives and stop the spread of disease."
A range of armed groups are currently active in the Ebola-hit area and this insecurity creates a challenge for health teams needing to go deep into communities to actively find cases and then monitor them twice a day for three weeks. It can also discourage members of the community from coming forward for treatment, the WHO said.
Earlier on Aug. 1, the DRC government announced that preliminary laboratory results had indicated a cluster of cases of Ebola virus in North Kivu province, northeastern of the country. It came little more than a week after the Ministry of Health declared the end of an outbreak in Equateur Province in the far western part of the country.
Last Tuesday, Dr. Salama confirmed that Ebola Zaire strain is the cause of the latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC, which though had no close linkages with the earlier outbreak in the northwestern Equateur province. Vaccination started last Wednesday to first target high risk populations in North Kivu, including the provincial health minister and the provincial coordinator of the Expanded Program on Immunization.
While it's the tenth Ebola outbreak in the DRC, it's the first time that the disease has struck a densely populated active conflict zone. As of Aug. 9, 17 out of 44 cases under treatment had been confirmed Ebola, while ten out of the total recorded 37 deaths were also confirmed.