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DRC, Congo Face Risk of Ebola Spreading Across Border

FILE - Health workers dressed in protective gear begin their shift at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, DRC, July 16, 2019.
FILE - Health workers dressed in protective gear begin their shift at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, DRC, July 16, 2019.

The World Health Organization is raising the prospect that the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Equateur province could spread across borders.

The latest figures put the number of cases in the province at 113, including 48 deaths. The disease has spread into 12 of the province’s 17 health zones.

Bomongo, the latest area affected by Ebola, is located between the Ubangi and Congo rivers. It is the second health zone to be affected that borders the Republic of the Congo.

Equateur province, DRC
Equateur province, DRC

The World Health Organization warned that this increases chances that the outbreak could spread into another country. WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told VOA the risk was heightened because Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province, also is affected by the outbreak.

“The population is also very highly mobile," Chaib said. "Mbandaka, for example, is a strategic hub on the Congo River, and there is the fear and stigma surrounding the disease. … As it is a trading hub, WHO is helping also to screen travelers.”

Chaib said the risk of the disease spreading from Mbandaka to DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, along the busy river route was of concern.

“This makes cross-border collaboration between the DRC and Congo more important than ever and will require coordination on disease surveillance and efforts to screen travelers,” she said.

Travelers screened

To prevent the outbreak from spreading further, the WHO said it had screened nearly 1 million travelers for Ebola at 46 strategic points of control. It said those efforts had identified 72 suspected cases of Ebola, helping to reduce the disease’s spread.

Equateur province is a sprawling, densely forested area, and moving around it takes a long time. The WHO said the difficulty of reaching infected areas and identifying and getting Ebola victims into treatment was hampering efforts to contain the outbreak.

Another problem is funding. The WHO said the COVID-19 pandemic was draining resources and attention away from the Ebola epidemic.

The agency said its appeal for $40 million had gone largely unheeded. The WHO said it had provided $2.3 million from its emergency fund to keep its lifesaving operation in DRC from collapsing.