KINSHASA – Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo continued to battle a growing Ebola outbreak on Friday after the health ministry announced the virus had caused 492 deaths, in what experts called the worst epidemic in the central African nation’s history.
According to the most recent figures published by the health ministry Thursday, 438 of the people who died were confirmed cases of the virus.
A total of 791 cases have been registered since the beginning of the epidemic six months ago, 737 of which are confirmed and 54 of which are probable cases of Ebola.
The outbreak, which emerged shortly after the DRC’s government declared an end to another flare-up of Ebola in the west of the country in June, was announced on Aug. 1 in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
The DRC’s health ministry statement also discussed the rumors swirling on social media which state that women have been sexually harassed in order to get heath care jobs in the fight against Ebola.
“Although local women’s NGOs have already denounced some of these messages as rumors aimed at tarnishing the image of women working in the response (to Ebola), the ministry of health cannot ignore these accusations and take them very seriously,” the statement read and then asked individuals who have been victims of harassment to report these incidences confidentially through free numbers provided by the ministry.
Meanwhile, World Health Organization regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said Feb. 3 that the end of the epidemic will be hard to predict and could take months, adding that chains of transmission and a large number of people are being monitored.
The Botswana-born doctor added that officials are aware that instability in the country has been limiting the WHO’s access to all of DRC, noting that the virus might be spreading in areas health workers have not had access to.
Moeti said instability in the central African nation was not static but instead changing on the ground so that at times, some places are safe and then suddenly conflict occurs which forces health teams to be evacuated from the area in question.
The WHO regional director and doctor said that Ebola was a virus that needed continuous and daily monitoring, and so closing a health center or evacuating medical personnel means losing track of cases and allowing it to continue to spread.
On Nov. 30, the World Health Organization confirmed that the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC is the second-worst in history after the 2014-2016 West African Ebola epidemic which resulted in 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths.
Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of infected people or animals, and is widely feared for its mortality rate of up to 90 percent and for causing heavy internal and external bleeding.