GENEVA - A panel of World Health Organization experts says strategies must be strengthened to combat the worsening Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO's latest report counted 1,738 cases of Ebola in Congo, including 1,218 deaths.
Congo's minister of health, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, likened the Ebola epidemic to a multi-headed dragon. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the epidemic began in one place, Mangina, but keeps popping up elsewhere.
"Our response, therefore, needs to continually adapt itself to the situation," said Ilungo. "We need to continually adapt and change our strategy bearing in mind lessons learned."
He said prevention measures, surveillance, the tracing of infected people, timely treatment and safe burial practices must be maintained. At the same time, he said old tools need to be refreshed and improved.
He proposed setting up a data-driven system, which compiles all the information produced in the response effort.
"Increasingly, it manages to carry out analyses that allow us to get ahead of the problem and we can identify the danger areas where there might be a greater risk of the virus spreading and we can get ahead of the problem," he added.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, finds the increasing number of new Ebola cases extremely worrying and challenging. She warned the risk of the disease spreading beyond Congo's borders is very high.
She said the DRC's nine neighboring countries are aware of the dangers and, with the help of the WHO, have taken many steps to prepare for that possibility.
"We have 16 Ebola-treatment centers and units having been established across the nine countries," she said. "And, in addition over 4,500 health workers have been trained to be able to detect and manage Ebola cases.The countries have continued to engage with communities to raise their awareness in all high-risk areas."
WHO officials are appealing for intensified international political engagement and financial support to combat Ebola. They warn the further spread of the dangerous disease would have serious social and economic regional implications and would trigger an even greater crisis.