18 May 2018 – 20:50
By William Clowes I Bloomberg
A Congolese health official said two more cases of Ebola have been identified in Mbandaka in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo.
There are now three confirmed cases of the disease in the city, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director-general of the National Institute for Biomedical Research, said by phone Friday from the capital, Kinshasa.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga said she couldn’t immediately confirm the higher number, after the ministry reported the first confirmed case of the disease there on May 16.
Mbandaka is home to about 1.2 million people and situated on the Congo River, which links the area to Kinshasa, with about 12 million residents, and Brazzaville, the capital of neighboring Republic of Congo.
The viral illness has spread to Mbandaka from the remote town of Bikoro, where an outbreak was confirmed on May 8. Thirteen cases have been confirmed around Bikoro, according to the ministry.
Twenty-five people are suspected to have died from the disease so far.
The outbreak doesn’t qualify as an international emergency, Robert Steffen, chairman of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee, said on a conference call in Geneva.
“It was the view of the committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern have not currently been met,” the WHO said on its Twitter account. The committee will reconsider its stance “if necessary,” Steffen said.
The current outbreak is the ninth occurrence of Ebola in Congo since it was first discovered in the central African nation in 1976, the most recent of which killed four people last year.
Congo’s Health Ministry on Wednesday received an air consignment of thousands of doses of an unlicensed VSV-EBOV vaccine developed by Merck & Co. that was dispatched by the WHO. A second delivery is arriving in Kinshasa on Friday and the vaccination campaign could begin as soon as Monday, Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general for emergency response, said on the conference call.
The treatment was trialed successfully in Guinea during a major outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016. Congo’s government authorized the use of the vaccine last week.
More than 500 people, who have been in direct or indirect contact with confirmed cases, have so far been identified for the vaccination program, Salama said.