'Great concern' as new Ebola outbreak grows in western DR Congo

WHO says nearly 50 people infected in new Ebola outbreak as DR Congo grapples with COVID-19 and measles epidemics.

    Cases in Equateur mark DRC's 11th major Ebola outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976 [File:Baz Ratner/Reuters]
    Cases in Equateur mark DRC's 11th major Ebola outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976 [File:Baz Ratner/Reuters]

    Ebola is spreading in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with nearly 50 known cases across a large region bordering the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

    Mike Ryan, the WHO's top emergencies expert, said on Monday that 48 cases had been confirmed in DRC's Equateur province since authorities announced a new outbreak there on June 1.

    There were three additional probable cases, he said, while a total of 20 people have died.

    "This is still a very active outbreak, and I would say it is still a great concern," Ryan told a news briefing.

    The province includes part of the River Congo, he said, adding that it was a large geographical area where communities were linked, and people travelled long distances.

    The newest outbreak is the 11th in the DRC since scientists first characterised the disease in 1976.

    The WHO said it has vaccinated 11,327 people against Ebola in the past month.

    The Ebola virus causes haemorrhagic fever and is spread through direct contact with body fluids from an infected person, who suffers severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

    An epidemic of the virus on the other side of the country that began in August 2018 killed more than 2,277 people. The WHO declared the outbreak over in Ituri and North Kivu provinces on June 25.

    Experts said the use of a vaccine and swift containment efforts including mobile handwashing stations and a door-to-door education campaign kept the disease at bay.

    While the number of infections in the new outbreak is low, Ryan cautioned: "In the era of COVID, it is very important that we do not take our eyes off these other emerging diseases". 

    "We saw in North Kivu and other previous outbreaks of Ebola that these can get out of control very easily," he added. 

    The DRC, one of the world's poorest countries, is also dealing with a measles epidemic that has killed more than 6,000 people, as well as COVID-19, which has infected more than 3,000 and killed 188, according to official figures.

    In its latest weekly bulletin on Monday, the WHO said the growing outbreak in Equateur was a "grave" matter given the complex humanitarian crisis in the DRC, with multiple disease outbreaks as well as ongoing clashes between armed groups that have displaced thousands of people in the country's east.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies