Nigeria Ramps Up Security as Congo’s Ebola Outbreak Grows

A nurse working with the World Health Organization (WHO) shows a bottle containing Ebola vaccine at the town all of Mbandaka on May 21, 2018 during the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign. - The death toll in an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) rose …
JUNIOR KANNAH/AFP/Getty Images

Nigerian public health facilities and airport security leaders began increasing security measures and preparing medical staff for the potential spread of Ebola to the country as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) confirmed its 27th death from the virus over the weekend, a nurse attending to victims.

Nigerian airport security officials told the national newspaper This Day that fears of the virus spreading to that country were founded upon the fact that Nigerians, residents of the continent’s largest economy, were “among the most travelled indigenous people on the continent” and could easily bring the disease into the country if unchecked.

“Airport facilities and medical structures that served Nigeria in the aftermath of the 2014 Ebola virus disease outbreak are being reactivated as the country tries to be on the alert for possible reoccurrence following the confirmation of several [Ebola] cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” This Day reported.

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which mainly affected Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, Nigeria documented 20 cases of Ebola and eight deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) described Nigeria’s response to the outbreak as a “spectacular success story” at the time.

Vanguard News reported on Monday:

The Federal Government has strengthened the capacity of the Nigeria Centre to Disease Control, NCDC, to prevent a possible outbreak of the Ebola Viral Disease, EVD, in the country. Chief Executive Officer of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made this known over the weekend while addressing newsmen in Abuja. Ihekweazu, who noted that vaccines had been made available to the DR Congo to contain the disease within the affected areas, said passenger screenings for Ebola at the airports, with special focus on flights inbound from East and Central Africa, have been stepped up.

He said: “We have had working groups here that have really worked all the time on increasing our preparedness on Ebola in terms of both prevention and response should an outbreak happen.”

“We know that it is not possible sometimes to completely prevent cases, because one can be incubating the virus even though he or she is not ill yet and come into the country. So, what we are doing is to increase our screening at ports of entry, increase education for people coming into the country, focusing specifically on flights coming in from the other parts of Africa especially east and central Africa.”

In DRC, Ground Zero for the latest Ebola outbreak, authorities are also working to ensure an adequate response to the outbreak.

“Congo’s health delegation, including the health minister and representatives of the World Health Organization and the United Nations have arrived in Mbandaka, the northwestern city of 1.2 million where Ebola has spread, to launch the vaccination campaign Monday,” AP reported.

Congolese Health Minister Orly Ilunga announced the latest death, according to the AP, and said other cases being monitored include 49 hemorrhagic fever cases, 22 confirmed as Ebola, 21 probable, and six suspected.

“We have established surveillance mechanisms and are following all cases and contacts,” Ilunga said in the AP report. “The response is well organized because we have also put in surveillance measures at the entry and exit points of Mbandaka.”

Ilunga also said two patients were able to leave the hospital and return home “with a medical certificate attesting that they’ve recovered and can no longer transmit the disease because they have developed antibodies against Ebola.”

Some 7,500 doses of the vaccine are now available in Congo, WHO said on Monday, with an additional 8,000 doses available in the coming days, according to the Associated Press.

Although the vaccine, provided by the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck, is still in the test stages, it proved effective in the last Ebola outbreak in Africa that killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

The Congolese government is increasing its funding to fight the disease by more than $4 million, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing an initial $1 million, the AP reported.

“This is Congo’s ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified,” AP reported. “The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected.”

Ebola has about a 90 percent fatality rate, depending on the strain, according to AP.

Reuters reported that Ebola experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are preparing to go to the Congo now that the virus has spread to an urban area, increasing the risk of a global outbreak.

The CDC, which played a key role in the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has experts in a field office in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, where they are working with local health officials, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said in the Reuters report

“Earlier this week the CDC issued a level 1 travel alert for the DRC, Skinner said, warning travelers that there is a disease outbreak and to take precautions,” Reuters reported.

“Right now, we’re thinking the risk of importation of Ebola to the United States is very low,” Skinner said. “We’re not recommending any additional border intervention or enhanced screening at the moment.”

Not all activities are being affected by the outbreak, however, including a soccer match between Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the Congolese team, Premium Times reported:

Nigeria’s Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, has dispelled fears that the planned valedictory match for the Super Eagles before they jet out for the World Cup in Russia may be canceled.

The Super Eagles are billed to face DR Congo in a friendly match on Monday, May 28 in Port Harcourt but the outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus in the Central African country led to many expressing doubt about the fixture holding.

However, the Sports Minister while speaking with State House correspondents on Monday, listed measures that have been taken to ensure the match goes on and at the same time avoid the contagious disease being brought into Nigeria.

“Nigeria is going to play the friendly with DRC, I have discussed with the Federal Ministry of Health with the World Health Organization in participation, we have reviewed the situation and received adequate information about it,” Dalung said.

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