DRC Ebola cases top 1,800 amid burial team attacks

Ebola burial team with protective equipment
Ebola burial team with protective equipment

UNMEER, Martine Perret / Flickr cc

Blowing past the 1,800 case mark, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported 39 cases over the weekend as well as a pair of assaults on burial teams, along with 10 new infections today, according to the latest official reports, raising the outbreak's total to 1,826.

In his keynote speech to mark the opening of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, praised the DRC health minister and its government for their leadership and commitment to ending the outbreak, but added that the risk of spread beyond the two affected provinces remains very high.

"We are fighting one of the world's most dangerous viruses in one of the world's most dangerous areas," Tedros said, emphasizing that outbreak responders are also battling insecurity, violence, misinformation, mistrust, and politicization of the event.

He said he has met with the DRC's president and opposition leaders to press for a multipartisan approach for ending the outbreak. "Unless we unite to end this outbreak, we run the very real risk that it will become more widespread, more expensive, and more aggressive."

Gavi gives $9 million more for vaccination

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, announced today that it has provided $9.2 million more to support Ebola vaccination in the DRC's outbreak region.

In a news release, it said the new funding will go to the WHO to cover operating costs for vaccination, including vaccination teams, transportation, syringes and other supplies, and special refrigerators that keep the vaccine at the required temperature. Merck is donating the vaccine on a compassionate use basis.

Seth Berkley, MD, Gavi's chief executive officer, said in the release that evidence so far suggests the highly effective vaccine is making an impact on the ground. "However, it is a sad fact that this impact has only been possible thanks to the sheer bravery of the vaccinators working in areas of increasing instability."

In its latest update, the DRC said nearly 120,000 people had been vaccinated against Ebola, and Gavi said nearly 30,000 frontline and health workers have been immunized in the outbreak region. The same two groups of professionals in neighboring areas in Goma, South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda are also being vaccinated, and Burundi is preparing to begin vaccination soon.

Gavi's new funding will run until July, bringing its support since the outbreak began to $15.1 million, which includes $2 million for efforts in neighboring countries.

New cases alongside attacks

Alongside reports of new cases over the weekend, the DRC's health ministry in its May 18 update described two separate attacks on safe and dignified burial teams. In one, the chief of a burial team was assaulted by the family members of a person who died in the Rwampara/Bunia area who refused to let the team take samples from the body for testing.

On May 17 a burial team was assaulted while burying four people who died at the Ebola treatment center in Butembo. The teams dig the graves beforehand to streamline their work, but sometimes people cover the graves during the night to state their opposition to the burials. When the team arrived at the cemetery, the graves were covered and people threw stones at them, injuring a burial team officer.

In a pair of weekend updates, the health ministry reported 39 new cases in nine locations, with Butembo and Mabalako the hardest-hit areas, with 9 cases each. Other affected sites are Katwa (6), Beni (5), Musienene (3), Mandima (3), Kalunguta (2), Lubero (1), and Mangurujipa (1). As of yesterday, health officials were still investigating 291 suspected Ebola cases.

The health ministry also reported that 32 more people died from their Ebola infections, 19 of them in community settings and 13 in Ebola treatment centers.

The weekend developments pushed the outbreak total past 1,800 to reach 1,816. And yesterday, the number of fatalities topped 1,200 to reach 1,209.

Today the WHO's online Ebola dashboard reflected 10 more cases, which puts the overall total at 1,826.

See also:

May 20 Tedros WHA keynote speech

May 20 Gavi news release

May 18 DRC update

May 19 DRC update

WHO online Ebola dashboard

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