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DR Congo launches first Ebola vaccination programme

Health staff working in the epicentre of the current outbreak are first to receive the immunisation, DRC officials say.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has launched an Ebola vaccination programme in a bid to stop the latest outbreak of the deadly viral disease from spreading.

The first wave of immunisations targetted healthcare staff in the northwest of the country who have had direct or indirect contact with infected patients, the DRC government said on Monday.

Alarm bells sounded last week after the outbreak, previously reported in a remote rural area of the country, notched up its first confirmed case in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million people, where three subsequent cases have been confirmed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has dispatched 35 immunisation experts, including 16 mobilised during the last deadly outbreak in West Africa, which began in 2013. The rest of the team is made up of newly trained staff from the DRC.

More than 7,500 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine have been deployed in the effort, which is being funded by a variety of international organisations.

"Vaccination will be key to controlling this outbreak," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, said in a statement on Monday. 

A DRC government spokesperson said that additional donors had promised 300,000 doses of the vaccine, around 5,400 of which have already been received.

Ebola

Along with frontline healthcare workers, family members and others who may have come in contact with the disease, including laboratory workers, surveillance teams and people responsible for burials will also receive the vaccine.

The programme attempts to control an outbreak by vaccinating and monitoring a ring of people around each infected individual.

Teams in the DRC are searching for those who may require the vaccine, with more than 600 people having been identified so far.


READ MORE: Two cases of Ebola confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo


While the vaccine is yet to be licensed, the WHO has secured special permissions to use it in response to this outbreak. 

In a 2015 trial in Guinea, the vaccine was shown to be highly effective against Ebola, with no cases recorded nine days or more after the vaccination among the 5,837 people who received the vaccine.

Vaccination is essential in efforts to combat Ebola, which had no proven cure. The average fatality rate among those infected is about 50 percent, according to WHO.

The virus killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016 as it swept through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Meanwhile on Monday, Oly Ilunga, DRC's health minister, said a nurse has died from Ebola in Bikoro, the rural northwestern town where the outbreak began. 

The nurse's death brings the death toll to 27. 

Despite concern around the outbreak, WHO said on Friday that it is not a global health emergency. For this classification to be given, a health crisis must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease, be "serious, unusual or unexpected" and require immediate international action for containment.


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