The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has detected a new Ebola outbreak in the northwest Equateur province around the city of Mbandaka, adding to the country’s health woes as it is also attempting to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
“We will send (to Mbandaka) the vaccine and medicine very quickly,” Health Minister Eteni Longondo told Monday a press conference, adding that he planned to visit the site of the outbreak at the end of the week.
Six cases were confirmed, four patients have died and two are receiving care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The city of Mbandaka is a transport hub on the Congo River with a population of more than a million. WHO said it has personnel on the ground to test samples and trace the contacts of infected persons.
The new emergence of the deadly virus comes as the vast African country is trying to stamp out what remains of an Ebola outbreak in war-torn eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The outbreak there started in August 2018 and killed 2,280 people.
WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern in July 2019, after the contagious virus threatened to spread to the large city of Goma and neighboring countries.
Two vaccines produced by Merck and Johnson & Johnson – which are in clinical study phases and not yet licensed – were rolled out to immunize more than 300,000 people.
Prioritizing the contacts of people diagnosed with Ebola was highly effective in halting the severe hemorrhagic fever, which attacks multiple bodily organs and can cause uncontrollable internal bleeding.
Officials had hoped to be able to proclaim the outbreak over on June 25. For this to happen, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days, double the incubation period.
Since the disease was discovered in 1976, this latest appearance of the virus is the 11th one recorded in the DRC, which is also fighting an outbreak of the new coronavirus.
So far 3,195 COVID-19 infections and 72 deaths were recorded, according to the latest official figures.
“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said. “Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.”