KINSHASA, May 17 (Xinhua) -- The risk of spread of the Ebola haemorrhagic fever epidemic in the northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is very high across the country, according to authorities and analysts interviewed by Xinhua.
Since the official announcement of the epidemic on May 8 by the Minister of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about the high risk of spread of the virus following high numbers of suspected cases registered in the Bikoro area in the northwest of the country.
"We are very concerned and we are preparing for all scenarios including worst-case scenarios," said Peter Salama, director of the WHO Emergency Management Program during his visit accompanied by Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Kinshasa earlier this week.
The DRC is at its ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976. The latest outbreak reported in May 2017 officially killed four people.
The virus takes its name from the river that runs along the village of Yambuku where it raged for the first time in 1976.
"We did not know this disease, it was mysterious," says Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who was the first researcher to go to the field at the time.
Congolese Minister of Health Orly Ilunga also expressed concern over the spread of the epidemic for the ninth time.
"So we are entering a new phase of the Ebola outbreak that is now affecting three health zones, including an urban health zone," the minister said on Wednesday.
Among the concerns of the DRC authorities, the Ebola epidemic this time in the northwest of the country has one of the particularities of the contamination of health professionals, the reaching of two health zones, to namely Bikoro and Iboko.
It is also in the proximity to the densely populated city of Mbandaka, which is a crossroads in the province of Equateur and to neighboring provinces.
The concern is also justified by the fact that the Equateur province affected by the epidemic shares several points of contact with other regions of the country including the capital Kinshasa.
"We will intensify the monitoring and tracing of the population to all air, sea and road access routes. The other cities in the province as well as the cities upstream and downstream of Mbandaka on the river are also placed under health surveillance," added Orly Ilunga.
RISKS FOR THE REGION
Over the past week, several countries in the region, some of which surround the DRC, have announced response measures to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in their territories.
Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville, which share maritime borders with Equateur province of DRC, have also announced surveillance to prevent the spread of the epidemic on its territory. Uganda, Gabon also announced their contingency measures against the spread.
Since 1976, the date of the first outbreak of Ebola in the country, at least 700 people have died across the country, according to statistics from the laboratory of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB) of Kinshasa.
"Thanks to our expertise in the DRC in epidemiological surveillance, we have always taken control of the Ebola virus, and even now I think that the virus is already under control," said Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, medical director of the INRB.
For the first time, the DRC has received Wednesday thousands of doses of vaccine against the Ebola virus disease sent by the WHO. The vaccination campaign will be targeted at exposed health professionals, those who have been in contact with confirmed cases.
According to Serge Kabamba, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Kinshasa, like the other previous epidemics, the current Ebola epidemic in the Bikoro area should remain limited to certain geographical areas of the province without leading to a health catastrophe, if the responses are well coordinated as usual.
At least 44 cases have been recorded since the beginning of the epidemic including three confirmed cases, according to the latest statistics from the Minister of Health.