WHO overhauls Ebola vaccination strategy as Congo cases surge

8 May, 2019

Extracts below from The New Humanitarian. Full text here:

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news/2019/05/07/who-overhauls-ebola-v...

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The World Health Organisation adapted its vaccination strategy on Tuesday to try to contain a spiralling outbreak of Ebola in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deaths have soared passed 1,000 as response teams continue to be met with violence and distrust...

In a statement, the WHO’s panel of experts announced that a wider group of “tertiary” contacts would now be vaccinated and said it was reducing dosages to allow for this due to concerns over “a potential vaccine shortage” if the outbreak expands. The panel said it was particularly worried that “a large proportion of new cases continue to arise among unknown contacts”...

"I’m profoundly worried because the number of cases increases with the frequency of attacks," the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in an interview with the British scientific journal Nature... "[The attacks] are almost every day. It disrupts our operations, and when operations are disrupted, the virus gets a free ride."

A toxic mix of mistrust, politics, and conflict has made it especially difficult to control the outbreak in Butembo and nearby Katwa in North Kivu province. Some have even voiced fears that the disease could spread to the major city of Goma or into neighbouring countries.

As attacks and interruptions have increased, so have infection rates, with confirmed cases approaching the 1,600 mark. Many people are now reportedly staying away from treatment centres even if they have symptoms...

Finally, amid growing concern over the deterioration in trust with local people, the panel proposed “a mass communication campaign” targeting “community knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding Ebola”, and noted: “The need for ongoing communication efforts is obvious and investment in social sciences is needed to understand how trust can be built.”...

Part of this mistrust has come from rumours spread on social media sites that the disease isn’t real or that treatment centres will only make people sicker.

Maurice Nzondero, a motorcycle taxi driver in Butembo, is one of the disbelievers. “... What proves that this disease exists? We think it is more of a plan to eliminate the local population.”

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Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org