The African Union (AU) on Friday called for immediate international actions to deal with the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which has lingered for almost one year with a high number of casualties.
On July 17, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Ebola in the DRC as a public health emergency of international concern, the same day when ten new cases were confirmed in Beni, Butembo, Mandima, Vuhovi, and Mutwanga health zones.
Speaking to a press conference at the AU Headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC (Center for Disease Control), said 2 522 cases had been confirmed and 1 705 deaths registered as of July 18 this year in the country.
“This means the outbreak is serious, unusual, unexpected and is spreading and carries implication for public health beyond the affected state’s national borders and require international action,” he said.
The latest round of outbreak has been limited mainly to North Kivu and Ituri provinces; and one case was recently reported in Goma, a city of about 1.5 million people and about 2km from the nearest city in Rwanda. He stated that 97 contacts of the victim have been identified and 77 of them vaccinated.
He further stated that the AU, through the Africa CDC, has been supporting the response and is renewing its commitment to supporting the governments of the DR Congo and other neighboring countries.
With regard to new response to the outbreak, more African voluntary health corps members will be deployed in the DR Congo by the AU, he said, adding the Africa CDC will work with the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN security system to improve security in the field for healthcare.
The director also noted that the Africa CDC would strengthen cross-border surveillance and laboratory systems.
“The Africa CDC will activate the African herald voluntary corps deployment. As you may recall, this was a group of individuals that were trained and used effectively by the African Union during the West African Ebola disease outbreak and it turned out to be a ‘game changer’ in defining how much, how quickly we ended that response,” he said.
The official emphasized that being infected with Ebola is a not a death sentence.
“About 700 confirmed cases have been cured, so this is very good news. So it means Ebola is not a death sentence, that we still have chances of surviving,” he said.
According to the WHO, simple treatment interventions at the early stage can significantly improve chances of survival. Meanwhile, an experimental Ebola vaccine known as rVSV-ZEBOV has also proved highly protective against the deadly virus. The vaccine is also now being used in response to the current outbreak in DRC.
The Ebola virus is transmitted through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials contaminated with these fluids. Hand hygiene is an effective way to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.