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Vaccination Campaign Could Help Thwart DR Congo Ebola Outbreak

FILE - A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018.

The World Health Organization has expanded its Ebola vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo to include high risk people in three areas. Latest WHO figures show 37 confirmed cases and 13 probable ones.

Since the start of the Ebola vaccination campaign in May, the World Health Organization said 682 people have been vaccinated, among them nearly 500 in Mbandaka, a city of more than one million people.

The campaign recently was expanded to include Bikoro, where Ebola was first discovered on May 8 and the Iboko health zone, which is the most remote of the three areas. Those immunized include health workers, responders and other people at high risk of falling ill from the fatal disease.

WHO officials say the vaccine, which has not been formally approved, appears to be providing protection and giving rise to hope that it can help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was president of Liberia during the unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa, shares that hope. Ebola broke out in West Africa in late 2013. By the time it was brought under control in 2016, the disease had killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Liberia lost 4,800 people during that outbreak.

While on a visit to Geneva earlier this week, she told VOA there has been an improvement in health care delivery systems, including infection control since the experience with Ebola.

"So the capacity to be able to address any outbreak is now improved in the affected countries, as well as in other places," she added. "I think there is an important new dimension in the fight for Ebola and that is vaccines.

Sirleaf said vaccine trials in Guinea and now in the DRC have shown good results.

"We are hoping that DRC like others will have a capacity to deal with it, to stop the spread," she said. "… We are hoping that DRC will come out of this without the major effect, the major results that we saw in the three countries that were not prepared for this."

The vaccine developer, Merck, has contributed 7,500 doses of the Ebola vaccine to the DRC. The company says as many as 300,000 more doses are available in case of a serious outbreak.