The nightmare for the spread of the Ebola epidemic in Congo, the second largest outbreak of the disease in history, is back, while health workers are raising the alarm on the stock of an experimental vaccine, which may not be sufficient to the needs. The disease has now spread to a large city in eastern Congo, Butembo, with over 1 million inhabitants.
The current epidemic is second only to that in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people a few years ago. So far, 471 cases of Ebola have been reported by the Congo Ministry of Health with 225 deaths. Without the teams that have vaccinated more than 41,000 people so far, this outbreak may have already seen more than 10,000 cases of Ebola, says the health ministry.
"We are very concerned about the epidemiological situation in the Butembo area," said John Johnson, coordinator of the Doctors Without Borders project in the city. "New cases are emerging and are rapidly increasing in the eastern suburbs and isolated suburbs".
This is by far the largest deployment of the promising but still experimental Ebola vaccine, owned by Merck. The company maintains a stock of 300,000 doses and preparing others requires several months. A WHO spokesperson said the dose shipments arrive almost every week to ensure sufficient vaccination. "Up to now there has been no interruption in the supply of vaccines," Tarik Jasarevic said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "Merck is actively working to ensure that enough doses continue to be available to meet the potential demand."
But there is another problem to face: the skepticism of a fringe of the local population. Some suspicious have renounced the vaccinations or safe burials of Ebola victims. And, as reported by the Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, a "marginal population" has destroyed medical equipment and attacked workers.
The Ebola virus spreads through the bodily fluids of infected people, including the dead. The epidemic "remains serious and unpredictable," the World Health Organization said in an evaluation published Wednesday. Nine different areas have reported new cases in the last week and some have not been linked to known victims, which means that there remain gaps in tracking in a region with a dense and highly mobile population.