KINSHASA. — The Democratic Republic of Congo joined with world agencies and neighbouring countries yesterday in boosting the response to an Ebola outbreak in the sprawling country’s northwest, as the toll mounted.
The health ministry declared it had activated an “action plan” in the city of Mbandaka after a case of Ebola occurred there. After visiting the Mbandaka and launching a coordination centre there, Health Minister Oly Ilunga announced on television that all health care would be free. “Financial hurdles should not in any way be a brake to having access to health care, especially at a time of epidemic,” Ilunga said.
In Geneva, a World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency panel met to determine whether the outbreak should be categorised as “a public health event of international concern” — a move that would step up global action.
The death toll rose by two to 25 out of 45 cases, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters. Fourteen of the cases have been confirmed in laboratory tests.Alarm bells sounded on Thursday after the outbreak, previously reported in a remote rural area, notched up its first confirmed case in a city — bad news for rolling back the notorious virus.
“The confirmed case in Mbandaka, a large urban centre located on major national and international river, road and domestic air routes increases the risk of spread within the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neighbouring countries,” the WHO said.
“WHO has therefore revised the assessment of public health risk to very high at the national level and high at the regional level,” it said.
“At the global level, the risk is currently low. As further information becomes available, the risk assessment will be reviewed.” Separately, the UN’s migration agency said it was helping DRC’s health ministry to send disease-tracking experts and medical staff to monitor travellers at 16 border points.The operation was enabled by funding of $75,000 (almost 64,000 euros) from Japan and $100,000 of internal funds, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said. A regional bloc, the East African Community — five of whose six members have borders with the DRC — said it was on “high alert” over the outbreak and had put in place measures to screen travellers arriving from that country. — AFP