GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Health workers in Democratic Republic of Congo will begin a vaccination campaign on Monday aimed at containing an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, a spokeswoman for the health ministry said.
Jessica Ilunga said 4,000 doses of vaccine were shipped on Saturday to the city of Mbandaka, which last week registered the first cases in an urban area since the latest flare-up of the disease was announced earlier this month.
The outbreak is Congo’s ninth since the disease made its first known appearance in the 1970s. The cases in Mbandaka, a port city on the Congo river, have raised concerns that the virus could spread downstream to the capital Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million.
According to Congolese health ministry data released late on Saturday, there have been four cases of Ebola confirmed through testing in Mbandaka’s Wangata neighborhood and another two suspected cases.
One confirmed Ebola patient has died there, the figures showed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the disease had killed 25 people since early April.
Confirmation of Ebola in Mbandaka, a city of about 1.5 million people, prompted the WHO last week to declare a “very high” public health risk for the country and a “high” risk for the region.
However, it said the outbreak could be brought under control and was not yet an international public health emergency.
“Previous outbreaks have demonstrated the importance of a rapid and well-resourced response in order to save lives, but also prevent an exponential increase in the economic cost of a response,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Sunday.
The U.N. health body was heavily criticized as too slow to declare an international emergency during an outbreak in West Africa. That epidemic spread mainly through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, killing more than 11,300 people from 2013 to 2016.
Jasarevic said the WHO was seeking $ 26 million to fund the Ebola response in Congo.
The WHO is sending 7,540 doses of the vaccine developed by Merck (MRK.N) to Congo. It is also in talks about a second vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N).
More than 30 health workers with experience administering Ebola vaccines are being deployed from Guinea to help with the campaign in Congo.
A government spokesman said late on Saturday that Congo’s partners had promised to make available 300,000 doses of vaccine.
Reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma and Issa Sikiti da Silva in Kinshasa; writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Dale Hudson and Jason Neely