Health fears as Ebola case confirmed in urban area of Democratic Republic of the Congo

A total of 44 cases have been reported

Health fears as Ebola case confirmed in urban area of Democratic Republic of the Congo

Image: WHO/S Oka

Health officials are on alert after a new case of the Ebola virus has been confirmed in a major city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The one new case was identified in Wangata, one of the three health zones of Mbandaka - a city of nearly 1.2 million people in Equateur Province in the northwest of the country.

The Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced the finding, after laboratory tests carried out by the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB) confirmed one specimen as positive.

Until now, all the confirmed Ebola cases were reported from Bikoro health zone, which is also in Equateur Province but at a distance of nearly 150 km from Mbandaka.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the health facilities in Bikoro have "very limited functionality" and the affected areas are difficult to reach, particularly during the current rainy season.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says: "This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola.

"WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus", he added.

WHO says it is deploying around 30 experts to conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners there to engage with communities on prevention and treatment.

Image: Google Earth

WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, says: "The arrival of Ebola in an urban area is very concerning and WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts of the confirmed case in the Mbandaka area."

Henry Gray, emergency coordinator in Mbandaka for the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières, says: "This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo in the last 40 years.

"So far, all of them have occurred in remote and isolated areas, as was the case last year in Likati, when the epidemic didn’t spread.

"With the new case confirmed in Mbandaka, the scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area.

"It is paramount to trace the suspect case in order to have a clearer view on how it reached the city.

"We are working closely with the Ministry of Health and the other organisations in the field to implement a coordinated, tailored and rapid response to stop the spread of Ebola."

The WHO is also working with MSF and others to strengthen the capacity of health facilities to treat Ebola patients in special isolation wards.

As of May 15th, a total of 44 Ebola virus cases had been reported: three confirmed, 20 probable, and 21 suspected.