Death toll tops 1,000 in Congo Ebola outbreak

A World Health Organization expert says the UN body expects continued “intense transmission” of Ebola virus in Congo with community mistrust being a major issue in some areas.

More than 1,000 people have died from an Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that started in August, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s health minister said Friday, as attacks on treatment centres and health workers undermine efforts to contain the disease.

Health Minister Oly Ilunga said that four deaths in the outbreak’s epicentre of Katwa pushed the death toll to 1,008. Two more deaths were reported in Butembo.

The World Health Organization said earlier on Friday it feared continued “intense transmission” of Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the death toll from a nine-month-old epidemic was hovering at 994.

The WHO plans to introduce an unlicensed new Ebola vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, in addition to a Merck vaccine already being used, as “another tool in the toolbox,” Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told a news briefing in Geneva.

Tenth outbreak in 40 years

But security incidents continue to plague the response to the outbreak, including a would-be assault on a facility on Thursday, slowing vaccination and daily checks on some 12,000 people potentially exposed to the virus, he said.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years last August in North Kivu before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.

The outbreak is already the second deadliest outbreak in history, and efforts to control it have been complicated by a volatile security situation and deep community mistrust.

The epicentre was first located in the rural area of Mangina but then switched to the town of Beni.

Local organisations say the number of Ebola deaths is rising.

Adding to the logistical hitches are a string of assaults on teams fighting the disease, and a Cameroonian epidemiologist working with WHO was killed last month.

Ryan says another attempted attack was made on the treatment centre in Butembo city on Thursday but was repelled by security personnel. No one was injured.

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