DR Congo ebola death toll rises to 400

Daily Mail

A healthcare worker sprays around a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 13, 2018. /REUTERS

More than 400 people have now died from an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the latest death toll.

Health authorities in the African nation also revealed there have been 658 cases of the killer virus since the epidemic began last August.

The figures come amid fears the outbreak in the DRC could get even worse because of political instability following a presidential election.

Aid workers on the ground have warned the outbreak of the virus – one of the most lethal known to science – is expected to rage on until the middle of the year.

A bulletin posted yesterday by the Health Ministry in the DRC stated there have been 609 confirmed Ebola cases so far. Another 49 are under investigation.

The outbreak has so far struck hardest in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri – which border South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. It has yet to spread further.

Officials revealed the number of cases of the lethal virus in Beni, a city home to around 230,000 people, is falling.

The ministry has not reported any new cases this week in the city, situated in a region caught up in violence blamed on Islamist rebels from Uganda.

Armed rebels have attacked, kidnapped and killed medical staff trying to combat the outbreak and equipment has been destroyed, making it difficult to help victims.

Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims is also challenging in areas controlled by dangerous rebels, officials have said repeatedly.

The breakout is the second largest in history, after the 2014 West Africa Ebola epidemic that lasted for two years, infecting 28,000 and killing more than 11,300.

As well as fears Ebola will spread into other regions of DRC, the neighbouring countries of Uganda and South Sudan are on high alert.

Health workers in those countries have been given vaccines against the virus to try and prevent it spreading via people who travel across the borders.

Ebola can be transmitted between humans through blood and other bodily fluids of people who have been infected, and by touching infected surfaces.

Tensions have been high in the DRC because of a presidential election which was supposed to mark end of a chaotic 18 years of ruling by Joseph Kabila.

The government cancelled the election in some regions because of insecurity.

In response, protestors attacked an Ebola treatment centre which contained patients thought to have been infected.

Politician Felix Tshisekedi was unexpectedly declared the election winner, leading to claims of fraud and calls for a recount from his main rival.

Monitoring groups noted widespread irregularities including faulty voting machines and poorly run polling stations, according to reports.

The new outbreak is the DRC’s ninth since the discovery of Ebola in the country in 1976.

Health experts credit an awareness of the disease among the population and local medical staff’s experience treating for past successes containing its spread.

DRC’s vast, remote geography also gives it an advantage, as outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate.