Congo will begin administering an experimental Ebola vaccine in Mbandaka, a city in the northwestern part of the country. The vaccine is still in the test stages, but it was effective at combating the infection in the West Africa outbreak that occurred a few years ago. The deadly disease has already infected some residents in the city, which has a population of 1.2 million.
Initially, the vaccination campaign will target about 600 people. According to Minister of Health Oly Ilunga, priority will be given to health staff, the contacts of the sick, and the contacts of the contacts. Officials say that more than 4,000 doses of the vaccine are already in Congo and more are in transit to the country.
Ebola can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals and is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain, along with internal and external bleeding. There is no specific treatment for Ebola.
The latest outbreak was declared more than a week ago, starting in a rural area in Congo’s remote northwest. The death toll of the current Ebola outbreak has risen to 26. A total of 46 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported, including 21 confirmed cases of Ebola, 21 probable cases and four suspected cases.
The spread of Ebola to Mbandaka has raised alarm. The virus can spread more quickly in urban centers. Mbandaka lies on the Congo River, a busy traffic corridor, and is an hour’s flight from the capital. Officials are working urgently to prevent the disease from spreading beyond the city.
Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Cabinet will increase funds for the Ebola emergency to more than $4 million and have agreed to provide free health care in the affected areas. Special care will be provided to all Ebola victims and their relatives. Schools in Mbandaka are implementing preventive measures by instructing students to avoid touching hands or kissing.
The World Health Organization has warned that the risk of Ebola spreading within Congo is “very high”. The organization did not declare the outbreak a global health emergency and said there should not be restrictions to international travel or trade.