CASES of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are likely to double and spread into cities and across the border into neighbouring countries, Mercy Corps has warned.
The outbreak of the disease in the north-east of the country has led to more than 400 deaths, with at least 680 confirmed cases, and is the second deadliest outbreak to date. An estimated 60 per cent of those who contract the virus in this outbreak are expected to die from it.
On 15 January, Mercy Corps, an international aid agency, said that it expected the number of cases to at least double to 12 new cases per day. As more people were infected and died, the expected increase in the number of unsafe burials could make the epidemic even worse, it warned.
“If we don’t get a handle on this epidemic, it could get to the point that borders are closed and international trade is suspended,” Jean-Philippe Marcoux, Mercy Corps Country Director for DRC, said. “For a country that already has 12.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, this would be disastrous.”
The Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse has built a new clinic in Komanda, in the north-east of the DRC, where the disease is currently focused. The clinic began treating patients this month. The director of the charity’s international health unit, Dr Elliott Tenpenny, said that the centre was treating more people every day. It currently has 18 beds, but can expand to provide up to 54.
He said: “Patients are coming in every day, and every day is different. Ebola is not under control, and we are concerned that the disease is being seen as normal. We don’t know where the cases are coming from, and in an area of the Congo which is very unstable, with limited access and movement, it is difficult to treat.”
He said that children and infants were being disproportionately affected by the disease in this outbreak.
Instability in the region has led to some charities halting their work to vaccinate against the virus, and several clinics were burnt down by political protesters in December. Thousands of people are also internally displaced and on the move, heightening the risk of the of the disease’s transmission.
The WHO has described the DRC as “one of the most complex settings possible” for the disease, and said that the risk of national and regional spread — the city of Goma is near by, which has a population of more than one million people — was “very high”.
Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in Sudan, and there have been repeated minor outbreaks
over the years. The most deadly outbreak began in Guinea, West Africa, in 2013, and spread though Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Mali, killing more than 11,300 before it was declared over in 2016.
It is thought that there is an animal reservoir for the disease in the DRC, and bats are thought to be likely hosts. Once it has been transmitted to humans, it is spread through blood, secretions, and other bodily fluids.