First death reported in DRC Ebola outbreak

Health officials have declared a new Ebola outbreak in the northwest part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the first death reported on Thursday.

In a statement issued this week, Dr. Oly Ilunga, the Minister of Public Health, acknowledged that the country is facing a new epidemic, calling it a public health emergency of international concern.

There have been 11 new cases of hemorrhagic fever this week, with two confirmed cases of the Zaire strain of Ebola in Bikoro, according to health officials. Lab results are still pending on the other nine cases, Ilunga said. He told The Associated Press that the patient who died was a nurse, and that three other nurses also were being treated for hemorrhagic fever.

This is the ninth outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1976, when Ebola was first identified in the country. Ilunga said officials in the country are well-trained and equipped with resources that have allowed them to quickly control previous epidemics. He said that his ministry has taken all the necessary steps to respond promptly and effectively to this new outbreak.

East Congo Bishop Gabriel Yemba Unda said he is concerned about the epidemic, adding that the church must take action.

“The church will not cross our arms in front of this epidemic. I ask the involvement of everyone (to help) put an end to this ninth epidemic of Ebola that has just hit our country once more, because it is urgent,” he said.

The DRC government sent a team of 12 experts from Kinshasa on Wednesday, including epidemiologists, logisticians, communication experts, hygienists and counselors. The group has launched an investigation to identify the new contacts, define the epicenter of the disease and the chronology of the epidemic, and identify the affected areas and villages to develop a state of material and human need.

World Health Organization officials also are on hand to help contain the spread of the outbreak.

“Our top priority is to get to Bikoro to work alongside the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and partners to reduce the loss of life and suffering related to this new Ebola virus disease outbreak,” said Dr. Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General, Emergency Preparedness and Response, in a news release earlier this week. “Working with partners and responding early and in a coordinated way will be vital to containing this deadly disease.”

In the past five weeks, there have been 21 suspected cases of viral hemorrhagic fever in and around the epicenter of Ikoko Iponge, including 17 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

The Rev. Butuli Boshi Henri, district superintendent in Ikela, said he was deeply troubled by the new Ebola outbreak in the Equator Province.

"As a church, we will begin raising awareness among our faithful to protect themselves against this epidemic,” he said.

Dr. Richard Letshu, health coordinator in the East Congo, said the church supports the efforts of the government to eradicate the Ebola outbreak.

“I ask the entire community to observe the health rules to fight against this dangerous disease,” he said.

Kituka Lolonga is a communicator in the Kivu Conference. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests. 

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