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Ebola death toll hits 26 in DR Congo as vaccinations start

Monday, May 21, 2018

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MBANDAKA, DR Congo (AFP) — The death toll in an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rose to 26 on Monday after a person died in the northwest city of Mbandaka, the government said, as it began vaccinating first responders against the dreaded disease.

"A death was recorded (on Sunday), while two people who had been confirmed as ill with the Ebola virus were cured on Saturday," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said.

The two cases occurred at Bikoro, a remote area where the outbreak began and then spread to Mbandaka -- an event that has deeply worried health experts.

Since the outbreak was announced on May 8, there have been 49 cases, comprising 22 confirmed by laboratory tests, 21 probable and six suspected, Ilunga said. Three new cases had been reported on Saturday.

The authorities meanwhile launched a programme in Mbandaka to immunise front-line health workers with an experimental Ebola vaccine.

First to receive the jab was Guillaume Ngoie Mwamba, in charge of the vaccination programme, reporters saw.

The immunisation team will follow suit on Saturday in Bikoro, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) away —vaccinating more than 600 people in all for the first phase of the operation.

"This vaccine is here to block the spread of the disease," Ilunga said.

Tests of the prototype carried out in Guinea — one of three West African countries hit by Ebola from 2013-15 —show that "all people who received the vaccine during the (virus's) incubation period did not develop the disease," he said.

However, he added, "It won't be a vaccination for mass use, because it first and foremost focuses on health workers. The second circle of vaccination will comprise people who have been in contact with patients, and contacts of contacts."

Donors have promised 300,000 doses of the vaccine, of which around 8,500 have already been received, Ngoie said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dispatched 35 immunisation experts, including 16 mobilised during the last deadly outbreak in West Africa which occurred in 2013. The rest of the team is made up of newly trained Congolese staff.

One of the world's most notorious diseases, Ebola is a virus-caused haemorrhagic fever that in extreme cases leads to fatal bleeding from internal organs, the mouth, eyes or ears.

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