Vastavam web: World agencies and neighbouring countries today hiked their response to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the toll from the notorious disease mounted.A World Health Organization (WHO) emergency panel met in Geneva to determine whether the outbreak was “a public health event of international concern” a move that would step up global action.The death toll rose by two to 25 out of 45 cases, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters. Fourteen of the cases have been confirmed in laboratory tests.That amounts to bad news for containing and rolling back the haemorrhagic fever virus, experts warned.
“The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and international river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries,” the WHO said.”WHO has therefore revised the assessment of public health risk to very high at the national level and high at the regional level,” it said. “At the global level the risk is currently low. As further information becomes available, the risk assessment will be reviewed.” A regional bloc, the East African Community — five of whose six members have borders with the DRC — said it was on “high alert” over the outbreak and had put in place measures to screen travellers arriving from that country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had mobilised more than 200 volunteers.”We are totally ready to respond with more support if necessary,” the ICRC’s national representative, Christine Cipolla, told a press conference in the eastern city of Goma.Lacking an arsenal of drugs to treat the virus, doctors isolate patients and trace people who have been in contact with them. This is a major task even for medical services in rich countries, but the DRC is one of the world’s poorest countries.
Four times the size of France, the DRC has been chronically unstable and episodically racked by violence since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960. Hospitals, roads, electricity are all major problems, especially in remote areas.In Mbandaka, whose population is estimated at up to 1.2 million, the mood among many people changed from insouciance to worry yesterday. Bars, restaurants and public offices set up basins of water and soap dispensers for people to wash their hands, while at the city’s airport, health ministry workers were taking travellers’ temperatures with pistol thermometers, an AFP reporter saw.Among humans, the commonest form of infection is through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of someone who is sick with Ebola or has recently died.
The current outbreak — the ninth to hit the DRC since Ebola was identified in 1976 — involves the same strain of the virus that struck three West African countries in 2013-15 and sparked an international panic.It went on to kill more than 11,300 people, in the deadliest ever Ebola epidemic.