An experimental Ebola vaccination programme has been launched in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in a bid to prevent a global health crisis. The recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has now infected 28 people in the DRC and has been declared to have the “potential to expand,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The first wave of immunizations is being targeted at healthcare professionals in the northwest of the country who have had direct or indirect contact with infected patients to stop the spreading of the life-threatening disease.
The recent outbreak in the DRC began in a remote rural area northwest of the country, but concern has arisen, as last week, seven of the confirmed 28 cases have been in urban settings, including Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million people. Health Minister Oly Ilunga stated last week that the confirmed cases in urban areas have plunged the ongoing crisis into a “new phase.” According to Al Jazeera, Health Ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga further stated that “what we are trying to do first is contain the outbreak so that it doesn’t spread towards other urban centres in the DRC.”
The experimental vaccine, which is yet to be licensed, has been granted special approval by WHO in a response to halt the outbreak. The vaccine proved highly effective when used in trials in West Africa between 2013 to 2016 during the regional Ebola outbreak, which killed around 11,300 people. Vaccination is seen as a vital necessity to combat the latest emergence of the fatal virus which currently has no cure and a 50 percent fatality rate, according to WHO. Ilunga stated the importance of vaccination, as it will help “break the disease’s transmission chain.” The WHO has sent 7,540 experimental vaccines to the DRC so far and will send another 8,000 in the following days. The WHO has also announced that it will be working with nine countries neighbouring the DRC to prevent international spread of the virus.
The successful trials show that the WHO’s decision to use the experimental vaccination is a positive decision. Ebola is a deadly virus, and it is promising to see both the DRC government and the WHO tackling the virus quickly to prevent it spreading into other urban areas and neighbouring countries. The DRC has suffered from ongoing violence and conflict from militant groups in the eastern areas of the country and major political instability due to President Joseph Kabila postponing the scheduled 2016 elections. Violent conflict and insecurity help the spread of disease due to inadequate surveillance, destroyed infrastructure, collapsed health systems, and disruption of disease control programs. Therefore, it is encouraging to see robust action taking place to curb the spreading of the Ebola virus in the DRC.
The Ebola virus is passed from human to human by contact through the mouth, nose, or broken skin with blood or other bodily fluids of those infected. The virus can cause multiple organ failures and tissue damage. The current death toll of the recent outbreak is at 28. There is a major concern regarding the outbreak, but it is currently not considered as a global health crisis according to the WHO. For this classification to be given, a health crisis must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease. Vaccination is a key strategy mechanism to save thousands to millions of lives and to prevent a global health crisis classification from being announced.
It is hoped that the experimental vaccination will continue to be successful by keeping health professional’s safe and breaking the transmission chain, which will, in turn, prevent an international crisis, save lives, and ultimately allow the DRC and surrounding countries to live without fear of the deadly virus.
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