Ebola outbreak hits DRC’s Likati

OUTBREAK: At least three people have died from Ebola in the DRC. Picture: CHRISTOPHER BLACK

Medical experts have called for a swift and immediate response to the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to ensure that it does not become an epidemic.

South Africans however need not panic.

At least three people have died so far from the outbreak in the Likati health zone in the Bas Uele province. There are 11 suspected cases of Ebola. Doctors Without Borders’ Hilde de Clerck said the chances of the virus spreading to other countries, including South Africa, were slim as it occurred in an outlying area.

“An international spread to South Africa, for example, seems unlikely as Ebola patients would have to travel by international plane. The area in which the outbreak is happening is a relatively remote area, not very densely populated, with few roads. We hope that, due to this, the outbreak will be more limited, both geographically and in terms of the number of people that are hit or fall sick,” De Clerck said. She said the movement of people was a major factor in the deadly 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic.

Like the three West African countries ravaged by Ebola more than two years ago, the DRC’s health infrastructure is weak. The epidemic in West Africa claimed more than 11000 lives. The DRC has had four Ebola virus outbreaks over the past 10 years alone.

De Clerck said a number of factors should have been considered to ensure that the virus was contained.

“The response will be the classic response, meaning identifying, isolating and treating Ebola patients, including psychosocial care, safe burial of corpses of people suspected to have died of Ebola and decontamination of places that could be contaminated with the virus. Surveillance activities including tracing and following-up contacts of cases – all those activities need to be coordinated well between different stakeholders.”

A team comprising doctors, water and sanitation experts and epidemiologist from Doctors Without Borders was dispatched to the affected country at the weekend.

Following the outbreak, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti met with DRC health officials in an effort to come up with a rapid and effective response. Moeti said the world body had already deployed experts to “mount a coordinated and effective response.”

Experts said that if the UN health agency had responded swiftly during the early stages of the virus in West.

-Zodidi Mhlana