DR Congo approves use of experimental Ebola vaccine

Health officials are preparing for the'worst Ebola outbreak yet

The Ebola vaccine being provided - called rVSV-ZEBOV - is an experimental vaccine that has been shown to be safe in humans and highly effective against the Ebola virus, according to the WHO.

Two cases of the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus were confirmed by Congolese authorities on May 8 around Bikoro in the northwestern province of Equateur. To date, 393 contacts have been identified and are being followed up.

According to the World Health Organization, the DRC reported 39 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola between 4 April and 13 May, including 19 deaths.

"The WHO is strengthening its presence, positioning a dozen epidemiologists who will be divided on the axes of Mbandaka, Bikoro and Iboko to investigate alerts", its Congo representative, Allarangar Yokouide, said. However, it is being taken very seriously given the recent history of Ebola outbreaks and proximity of this area to the Congo River, linking local populations to the major cities of Kinshasa, Brazzaville and Bangui.

Moeti said 362 contacts had been traced of those who had fallen sick - a necessary precursor to deploying the vaccines. Three health care workers are among the cases and one has died.

The WHO's Africa director said Sunday that the organization has 4,000 doses of V920 prepared "for deployment" in the DRC; Merck has an additional 300,000 doses available for use if needed.

Transporting the vaccines to the affected area would be logistically challenging.

This is Democratic Republic of Congo's ninth outbreak of Ebola since the discovery of the virus in the country in 1976. "This is a highly complex sophisticated operation in one of the most hard terrains on Earth", Salama said. That work is vital both to encourage people to agree to be vaccinated and to figure out if any local practices are increasing the risk the virus will spread.

The Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is coordinating the response.

"Public health emergency of worldwide concern" means an extraordinary event which is determined, as provided in these Regulations: "(i) to constitute a public health risk to other States through the global spread of disease and (ii) to potentially require a coordinated worldwide response".

An air bridge for supplies and personnel will be established by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) starting 13 May with daily flights scheduled from Kinshasa to Mbandaka and Mbandaka to Bikoro.

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