Another Ebola epidemic is spreading in the Democratic Republic of Congo and it is the second deadliest outbreak in history.
The latest outbreak may continue for another three or four months, the east African nation’s health ministry has cautioned.
Deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have reached 319, recent official figures reveal, and the spread of the virus shows no sign of slowing down.
It is feared 549 people have been struck with the virus since the outbreak was declared in August. Twenty per cent of new cases have been reported in the last month alone.
On average, Ebola, which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases haemorrhaging – kills about half of those infected, but fatality rates in individual outbreaks have varied. The latest outbreak has a case fatality rate of about 58%.
The spread into more major cities and across borders into other countries remains the biggest concern, with ongoing armed conflict and increased commuting expected over Christmas.
Ahead of the presidential election on December 30, several tonnes of hand sanitiser have been deployed for use in polling stations, where millions of people will use touch-screen voting machines.
Health officials have struggled to contain the outbreak in one city alone, but other major cities in eastern Congo – such as Goma near the Rwanda border, and across the heavily travelled border into Uganda – are of a huge concern.
Uganda in particular is the focus of “intense collaboration” where cases have not yet been recorded – the DRC’s Health Minister, Oly Ilunga said.
This Ebola outbreak is mainly concentrated in the provinces North Kivu and Ituri, Ilunga said.
Health experts fear that travels during the Christmas period may cause the Ebola outbreak to spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda and elsewhere in eastern Africa.
Officials have warned that thousands of families will make the journey over the border to visit family and buy food during the festive period.
The current outbreak is now the second-deadliest and second largest Ebola outbreak in history, topped only by one in West Africa in 2014, when the disease killed more than 11,000 people, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
In late November, the ministry announced the launch of a first randomised control trial for three Ebola treatment drugs. Additionally, some 49,940 people have been inoculated with an experimental vaccine since early August.
Efforts to contain the outbreak have faced tremendous obstacles so far. Local militia groups have stepped up their attacks as the country heads into a long-delayed national election on December 30.
Six months after the first case of Ebola was confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-torn border province of North Kivu, the outbreak is still raging, leaving a trail of fractured families and hundreds of orphans in its wake.
Now an upcoming election and holiday travel are mobilising the population in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making a tough situation even harder to control.
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