Officials plan tosend an experimental vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus.
THE ASSOCITED PRESS
WAshington, US | May 14
Nineteen people have died of Ebola in Congo as health officials plan to send an experimental vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus that killed thousands in West Africa a few years ago.
The World Health Organization said there have been 39 confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola over the past five weeks as the virus spreads across three rural areas covering nearly 40 miles in the northwest part of the country. Among the dead were three health-care workers. Health officials are following up with nearly 400 people identified as contacts of Ebola patients.
The global health agency announced last week its plans to send the vaccine, developed in 2016 by the pharmaceutical company Merck. Health officials hope that the vaccine, which was given to people in Guinea in West Africa during a trial in 2015, could be a game-changer in preventing Ebola from spreading, The Washington Post’s Siobhán O’Grady wrote last week. Among the 5,837 people who received the vaccine, called rVSVZEBOV, no one came down with Ebola 10 days after vaccination.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, told reporters Monday that the agency has received permission from Congo officials to import the vaccine, which he hopes would arrive by the end of this week.
“Everything is formally agreed already. The vaccine is safe and efficacious and has already been tested. I think we can — all is ready now to really use it,” he said.
The WHO has a stockpile of 4,300 doses of the vaccine in Geneva, Stat News reported. Merck also has committed 300,000 doses of the vaccine for emergency use.
Ghebreyesus said he has traveled to the remote area to assess health needs.
“Being there is very, very important. If a general cannot be with its troops in the front line, it’s not a general. ... We have to go and show that that should really stop, and if my life is at risk, my life is not better than anyone,” said Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian health minister and the first African to become WHO’s director-general. “We have to be where the problem is.
The WHO first learned of the outbreak May 8, when Congo’s Ministry of Health confirmed two cases of Ebola in the town of Bikoro, now the epicenter of the outbreak and located in the country’s Equateur province, which has a population of about 2.5 million people.
“We are very concerned and planning for all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario,” Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, said at a United Nations briefing in Geneva on Friday.
Transporting the vaccines to the affected area would be logistically challenging. Salama said the area is about 15 hours away by motorbike from the closest town and lacks the necessary infrastructure, Reuters reported. He said Friday that the WHO plans to send up to 40 experts by the weekend and clear an airstrip for supplies.