Rwanda puts extra checks on border with DRC amid Ebola outbreak

Infant daughter and wife of man who died of Ebola in Goma have contracted the disease

A boy has his temperature checked in Goma, the DRC. Photograph: Pamela Tulizo/AFP

A boy has his temperature checked in Goma, the DRC. Photograph: Pamela Tulizo/AFP

 

The one-year-old daughter of the man who died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s major city of Goma this week has the disease, the DRC’s health ministry said on Thursday, as the latest outbreak of the virus now enters its second year.

The man died on Wednesday after spending several days at home with his large family while showing symptoms.

This is the first transmission of Ebola inside Goma, a city of more than 2 million people on the Rwandan border, a scenario that health experts have long feared.

It later emerged that the man’s wife had also been infected.

The painstaking work of finding, tracking and vaccinating people who had contact with the man, and the contacts of those contacts, has begun.

Rwanda’s border with the Ebola-hit DRC was fully open late on Thursday, a Rwandan minister said, hours after Congolese traders had reported it shut following the announcement of the third case of the disease in Goma.

The state minister for foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, had earlier said the Rwandan boundary was temporarily closed.

However, Rwandan health minister Diane Gashumba said there had been traffic slowdowns at the border, caused by increased health screening in response to confirmation of new infections in Goma. “The border was never closed and it is not closed,” Ms Gashumba told reporters.

This outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people, nearly one-third of them children.

It is now the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, and last month the World Health Organisation (WHO) took the rare step of declaring it a global emergency.

Last week Saudi Arabia stopped issuing visas to people from the DRC, citing the Ebola outbreak, shortly before the annual Hajj pilgrimage this month.

The WHO has recommended against travel restrictions amid the outbreak but says the risk of regional spread is “very high”.

Vaccinating

Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan have long begun vaccinating health workers.

In June, three people died in Uganda before their family members were taken back to the DRC for treatment and Ugandan officials declared the country free of the disease.

The death on Wednesday in Goma “in such a dense population centre underscores the very real risk of further disease transmission, perhaps beyond the country’s borders, and the very urgent need” for more global support, UN agencies said in a joint statement marking a year of the outbreak.

The man in his 40s who died was a miner returning from an area of northeastern Ituri province, Mongwalu, where no Ebola cases in this outbreak have been recorded, the WHO said.

He was exposed to the virus along the roughly 300-mile-long route back from Komanda to Goma as he took motor taxis over a number of days through the densely populated region at the heart of the outbreak.

The man arrived in Goma on July 13th and started showing symptoms on July 22nd.

He was isolated at an Ebola treatment centre on Tuesday.

He had spent five days being treated at home and then went to a health facility, where Ebola was suspected.

Symptoms can start to occur between two and 21 days from infection, health experts say.

“He may not even have been aware of the exposure that he had,” WHO emergencies chief Dr Michael Ryan said on Wednesday.

Ebola symptoms such as fever can be confused with malaria, which is endemic in the region.

No link

The DRC’s new Ebola response co-ordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, has said there appears to be no link between the man’s case and the previous one in Goma that was announced 2½ weeks ago.

That case was a 46-year-old preacher who managed to pass through three health checkpoints on the way from Butembo, one of the communities hardest hit by this outbreak.

The declaration of a global health emergency, the fifth in history, came days after that first Goma case.

It has brought a surge of millions of dollars in new pledges by international donors, but some health workers say a new approach is needed to combat misunderstandings in a part of the DRC that had never experienced Ebola before.

Health workers responding to the outbreak have been attacked, even killed, in a region where rebel groups are active and the population is wary of outsiders.

There is no licensed treatment for Ebola, which is spread by close contact with bodily fluids of those infected, and survival can depend on seeking treatment as quickly as possible.

And yet many people in the region do not believe that the virus is real, health workers have said.

This outbreak is second only to the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that left more than 11,300 people dead. – AP/Reuters