Date: Tue, 26 Nov 2019 13:18:30 +0100 (MET)

Geneva, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - The World Health Organization said Tuesday it had moved 49 staff out of Beni, eastern DR Congo, overnight amid growing insecurity, but warned of the impact on the fight against Ebola.   The UN health agency said it had flown more than a third of its 120 staff in Beni to Goma, further south on the country's eastern border, as insecurity in the area surged.   But it said 71 essential staff remained in the town to try to push on with work to rein in the Ebola outbreak that has left some 2,200 dead.   "The violence needs to stop... This is very bad for the Ebola response," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told journalists in Geneva.

Insecurity has complicated efforts to rein in Ebola since the latest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in August 2018.   But violence in the lawless east of the country has recently surged, with 77 civilians killed in the Beni region since November 5, according to a not-for-profit organisation, the Congo Research Group (CRG).   On Monday, at least four protesters were killed, according to the military, after clashes broke out and protesters stormed a UN camp over the perceived failure of UN peacekeepers to stop deadly attacks from militia groups.   "The security situation in Beni has definitely worsened overnight, or throughout the last days," Lindmeier said.   But he stressed that unlike several previous spikes in violence, the anger this time had not specifically targeted Ebola responders.

- Cases will rise -
"As the community violence is not directed at the Ebola response, we will try as long as possible to maintain a minimum support for the community," he said, stressing that those moved to Goma would also continue working remotely.   But the insecurity is nonetheless seriously hampering the response.   "Every day, every hour (that) we cannot go out (to) trace the contacts, help the communities with dignified burials, go out for vaccinations and for treatments ... will most certainly result in rising cases," Lindmeier said.   The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.

The work to halt the Ebola epidemic is based on vaccinating and carefully tracking anyone who has been in contact with those infected, and the contacts of the contacts.   Lindmeier said that while health workers typically are able to successfully track more than 90 percent of all contacts, on Monday they only reached 17 percent.   Mike Ryan, WHO's emergency response chief warned last week that the violence and lack of access was "now preventing us ending this outbreak".   Over the week ending on November 24, seven new cases were registered, bringing the total number of cases to 3,303, including 2,199 deaths, WHO said.
Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2019 21:41:05 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Nov 23, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of people have died in flooding in the Democratic Republic of Congo when the Congo River and its tributaries burst their banks, a charity and media reports said on Saturday, as heavy rains also lashed east Africa.   Twenty five people were reported to have been killed in the north-western province of Equator bordering Congo-Brazzaville, Congolese media reports said.   "We declare that the province of Equator is disaster stricken," provincial interior minister Jean Julie Mwamolanda told news site news.cd.   A spokesman for the Catholic charity Caritas-Congo said that "local authorities have recorded ten deaths in the province of North Ubangi".

More than 180,000 people were in need of humanitarian assistance in the same northern region which borders Central Africa, which has also been hit by rains and floods in the past month.   "The waters are coming down (but) this opens the door to illness," added Caritas' Guy-Marin Kamandji.   Tens of thousands of people were also affected in the neighbouring province of South Ubangi, though which the Oubangui River runs between DRC and the Central African Republic.   On the other side of the Congo river, at least 50,000 people were affected by the downpours prompting the Congo-Brazzaville government to declare a state of emergency.   Newspaper Les Depeches de Brazzaville reported three dead on Thursday.   On Friday, residents also reported a dozen deaths in the DRC's southwestern Kasai province.   Heavy rains and landslides have also killed dozens in Kenya amid weeks of downpours across the wider East African region.
Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2019 15:08:51 +0100 (MET)

Geneva, Nov 22, 2019 (AFP) - The opportunity to quickly end the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo could be lost due to violence in the country's east, the United Nations said Friday.   DRC's President Felix Tshisekedi said earlier this month that the end of the year was a realistic target to stamp out an epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people since it began in August 2018.   "We're so close to finishing," the World Health Organization's emergency response chief, Mike Ryan, told reporters.

But Ryan said he was "alarmed...that the lack of access and a lack of security is now preventing us ending this outbreak."   "If we lose this opportunity, we're going to be dealing with that reality for months to come," he said.   The affected eastern DRC provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, suffer from chronic insecurity, with various militia groups operating in the region.

Insecurity has complicated the Ebola response since the outbreak began.    The use of two new vaccines has helped contain the virus, but WHO has repeatedly stressed that vaccines alone are not sufficient without reliable access to communities affected by the virus.    "We need security. We need an enabling operation that can provide access for our staff to the front line in a secure manner," Ryan said.
Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2019 12:41:16 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 14, 2019 (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo on  Thursday introduced a second vaccine to fight a 15-month-old epidemic of Ebola in the east of the country, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.   The new vaccine, produced by a Belgian subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, will be administered to about 50,000 people over four months, the charity said.

More than a quarter of a million people, many of them frontline health workers, have been immunised with another anti-Ebola vaccine in a programme begun last year.   The epidemic began in August 2018 in the province of North Kivu before spreading to neighbouring Ituri and South Kivu -- a remote and largely lawless region bordering Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The notorious haemorrhagic virus has so far killed 2,193 people, according to the latest official figures.   It is the DRC's 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-16, claiming more than 11,300 lives.

- Two-dose vaccine -
Fifteen people received an injection of the new vaccine in MSF facilities in the North Kivu capital of Goma early Thursday, a spokeswoman for the charity said.   The formula is administered in two doses at 56-day intervals, and those who have received the vaccine have been reminded to return for the second shot, she said.    The disease's epicentre is about 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Goma, a sprawling urban hub of between one and two million people on the border with Rwanda.

Four Ebola cases were recorded in the city in July and August, sparking fears the virus could spin out of control in a chaotic, mobile environment.   Efforts to combat Ebola in eastern DR Congo have been hampered by militia violence and local resistance to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.    Health workers have been attacked 300 times, leaving six people dead and 70 wounded since the start of the year.

Despite these problems, statistics point to a downward trend.    The health ministry late Wednesday said it had recorded four new cases of Ebola but no deaths, while 508 suspected cases were being monitored.   "In its current phase, the epidemic is not urban but has become rural," Professor Jean-Jacques Muyemebe, in charge of coordinating the anti-Ebola fight, said last month.   "We have to track it down, force it into a corner and eliminate it," he said.

- Novel vaccines -
The new J&J vaccine was initially rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled Ebola funds.

Both vaccines are novel formulas that, when they were introduced, had been tested for safety but were unlicensed, meaning that they had yet to achieve formal approval from drug authorities.   The first vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV, has been given to 251,079 people, according to figures released late Wednesday.   Manufactured by the US laboratory Merck Sharpe and Dohme (MSD), the vaccine was licensed by the European Commission last week. It is being marketed under the brand name of Ervebo.   On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced it had "prequalified" Ervebo -- an important regulatory procedure that will allow the drug to be quickly deployed in future Ebola outbreaks.

- Feared virus -
The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.    Following incubation of up to three weeks, a high fever develops, coinciding with weakness, intense muscle and joint pain, headaches and a sore throat.    This is often followed by vomiting and diarrhoea, skin eruptions, kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.    The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.   The virus's natural reservoir is suspected to be a tropical bat which does not itself fall ill but can pass on the microbe to humans who hunt it for food.
Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 13:19:54 +0100 (MET)

Goma, DR Congo, Nov 11, 2019 (AFP) - A local radio station that has been involved in the fight against Ebola in eastern DR Congo said Monday it was closing down after one of its broadcasters was murdered.   Joel Musavuli, head of Lwemba radio in Mambasa in Ituri province, told AFP that the station had been targeted by armed groups hostile to the campaign to roll back the Ebola epidemic.

"Each of us have received threats since last month. We have now decided to stop broadcasting, Musavuli said, adding that he himself had escaped two kidnap attempts.   "We are victims of our commitment to the awareness campaign about the spread of Ebola virus disease. We don't know why the militiamen are targeting us."   Nearly 2,200 people have died since the notorious haemorrhagic disease erupted in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in August 2018, according to the latest official figures.

The fight against the outbreak has been hampered by local fears and superstititions, exploited by militia groups that are rampant in the remote region.   Several health workers have been killed and media that have supported the campaign have received threats.

Several radio stations in the Mambasa area say they have stopped broadcasting anti-Ebola messages because of intimidation.   On November 2, Lwemba broadcaster Papy Mahamba was killed at his home by unidentified men. His wife was injured and their house set ablaze.    The station said the authorities had failed to take action against the threats. It said it would resume broadcasts after "the state has restored authority in the area".
More ...