Ebola fight has new science but faces old hurdles in restive Congo

Health workers in Beni, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face logistical challenges as they try to control the Ebola outbreak. Beni is an important trading hub that has been identified as the new Ebola flash point. The outbreak has so far killed 90 people, among 129 cases in Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

BENI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (SEPTEMBER 7, 2018) (REUTERS) – When Esperance Nzavaki heard she was cured of Ebola after three weeks of cutting-edge care at a medical centre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, she raised her arms to the sky with joy and praised the Lord.

Her recovery is testament to the effectiveness of a new treatment, which isolates patients in futuristic cube-shaped mobile units with transparent walls and gloved access, so health workers no longer need to don cumbersome protective gear.

“I was in contact with someone who had the Ebola virus and after a few days, I started feeling unwell and I started developing Ebola symptoms. I had intense pains, a very high fever and fatigue. I also had pain throughout my body. I thought I had malaria or typhoid so I went to get some medicine at the pharmacy, but I was still feeling sick after two days,” Nzavaki told Reuters in Beni, a city of several hundred thousand, where officials are racing to contain the viruS.

Nzavaki was treated at an Ebola centre, run by the health NGO Alliance for International Medical Action or ALIMA, which has partnered with the government and other UN organisations — to set up the only center in the region offering this kind of treatment.

Here, relatives of patients and visitors can speak to patients through the plastic sheeting around the cubicle without protective suits.

The fight against Ebola has become more advanced since it was discovered near Congo’s eponymous river in 1976. When the worst outbreak killed 11,300 people in West Africa in 2013-2016, there was no vaccine and treatment amounted to little more than keeping patients comfortable and hydrated.

Now there’s an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck, which this year helped quash this strain of the virus on the other side of the country in under three months, while three experimental treatments have been rolled out for the first time.

“There are some successes, because some people recover from Ebola and for us technicians it’s a great feeling of satisfaction. As you saw just now, we were celebrating with her, the fourth person to come out after recovering in our centre. Yes, some people recover from Ebola and others die and as Claude (another doctor) has explained already, all this is a process that has to improve so that people come to the centre much faster so they can also recover more quickly,” said Dr. Rouafi Oummani, ALIMA medical co-ordinator.

Kasereka Mundala, whose wife has been receiving treatment at the center praised the doctors for saving his wife’s life.

She contracted the virus while washing the body of a loved one who passed away from Ebola.

“It’s been a week and a half since my wife has been ill and is being treated here. I am very happy that she is progressing well and I thank the doctors and I praise God,” Mundala added.

Yet even the smartest science can do little about the marauding rebel groups and widespread fear and mistrust that could yet scupper efforts to contain Congo’s tenth outbreak of the deadly haemorrhagic fever.

It is believed to have killed 90 people since July and infected another 40.

The affected North Kivu and Ituri provinces have been a tinder box of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two bloody civil wars in the late 1990s.

Some areas near the epicentre require armed escorts to reach because of insecurity.

On Sunday (September 09), the neighbourhood of Ngadi in the north of Beni was attacked by ADF rebels, killing one person, according to a spokesperson for the Congolese army in the region.

Residents have called on authorities to address the insecurity or risk sabotaging efforts to bring the virus under control.

“We have sent the health minister to put great emphasis on Ebola. We also ask the ministry of defense to also look into the issue of insecurity caused by these rebels, because insecurity will scare away the doctors helping to fight against Ebola. If they leave, then the virus will spread and it will kill even more people. It’s a real danger,” said Jamali Musa, President of civil society in Beni.

Health officials say they have made progress in slowing the virus’s spread with experimental vaccines and treatments. But they cannot be sure the situation is under control due to difficulties accessing some areas.

Associated Links

  • Med Actn Inds
  • Merck & Co
  • ThomsonReuters
  • Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • North Kivu
  • Medicine
  • Health
  • Geography of Africa
  • West African Ebola virus epidemic
  • Biological weapons
  • Tropical diseases
  • Beni
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Ebola virus disease
  • Ituri Province

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