Health officials are preparing to begin vaccinations in the rural areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the latest outbreak of Ebola was declared earlier this month. According to the DRC's health ministry, vaccinations should start on Monday, May 28th, as the number of confirmed Ebola cases rises to 35, with 10 dead.
Mbandaka, a city of more than a million people, has seen the roll-out of experimental Ebola vaccines for almost a week. Authorities have confirmed four Ebola cases in the city.
In line with the vaccination roll-out, health workers in Mbandaka were among the first to be vaccinated as they are on the front line helping those infected with the disease. Ebola is spread from person to person via bodily fluids, even from the dead.
Health ministry spokesperson Jessica Ilunga told the Associated Press that vaccinations will begin in the Bikoro and Iboko areas on Monday. "The health minister can be found at this moment in Bikoro assessing the preparations for the vaccination campaign," Ilunga said.
Of the 10 Ebola deaths, five occurred in Bikoro and two occurred in Iboko. The remaining three deaths occurred in the Wangata area of Mbandaka. In addition to the confirmed Ebola cases, there are also 13 probable cases and six suspected cases of Ebola.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) emergencies chief has said the next few weeks will be crucial in determining if the current outbreak can be brought under control. Some of the factors complicating the current outbreak include the spread of the disease to a major city, that health workers have been infected and the existence of three or four separate 'epicentres' of the disease. These separate epicentres makes it more difficult to monitor those who come into contact with the infected.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a meeting in Geneva on Saturday May 26th that "I am personally committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to stop this outbreak as soon as possible." To combat the latest spread of the disease, the WHO is making use of a ring vaccination approach, targeting the contacts of people infected or suspected of infection and then the contacts of those people as well. More than 600 contacts have been identified. The WHO is also accelerating efforts with nine neighbouring countries to prevent the Ebola outbreak from spreading there, saying the regional risk is high. However, the WHO also said it was "particularly important there should be no international travel or trade restrictions".