Ebola: Delays cost lives, threaten deadly spread to surrounding countries

Red Cross workers carry away the body of a person suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in the Liberian capital Monrovia, on October 4, 2014. By far the most deadly epidemic of Ebola on record has spread into five west African countries since the start of the year, infecting more than 7,000 people and killing about half of them. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL GUYOT. (Photo credit should read PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite a quick international response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there is a high risk of spread at the national and regional level. More funding is needed for preparedness efforts in surrounding countries to ensure responding teams are ready to act, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said.

Dr Michelle Gayer, emergency health director at the International Rescue Committee, said:

“Tackling this outbreak is a fight on multiple fronts. Mbandaka is easily connected to Kinshasa and neighbouring countries like Central African Republic. So preparedness work, now, is vital – it means health facilities on alert and ready to detect any Ebola cases – isolating them, taking samples, tracing all their contacts, and providing information to the community. This requires teams in neighbouring countries and other parts of the DRC to be trained, providing practice drills so teams are ready. Preparedness means rapid response. No preparedness means delays. Any delays will cost lives.”

Funding and support in surrounding countries like Central African Republic and South Sudan is required now to ensure appropriate preparedness. The international response must do more to prepare across the region as well as responding to the outbreak itself.

Due to the risk of a regional epidemic spread, the surrounding countries have taken significant steps towards protecting themselves against an outbreak but more must be done to effectively prepare them. The government of Central African Republic, alongside the World Health Organisation, have adopted numerous positions for preparation, mobilising international health actors, but funding remains insufficient. Similarly, the Ministry of Health in South Sudan is establishing screening points at entry points into the country, but requires global support in order to securely protect the nation.

WHO concerned as one Ebola case confirmed in urban area of Congo

The IRC is working on contingency planning for our programs. Where we have health programs, the IRC is strengthening surveillance and coordinating at national level with WHO/Ministry Of Health preparedness missions. The IRC is strengthening national surveillance in surrounding countries where health programming is in operation. Handwashing devices, soap, protective gloves, and other lifesaving WASH equipment, is being provided in addition to trainings within existing health structures.

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As DRC’s ninth outbreak, the government has a history of effectively stopping the spread of Ebola. Previous outbreaks were all in very remote locations or small towns, and this new outbreak is significant as it is now in at least three different simultaneous locations and has reached reached Mbakanda, a large densely populated city with transport and port links to the rest of the country.

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