As the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo holds steady at 2 confirmed and 3 probable cases, the Ministry of Health has approved the administration of an experimental vaccine against the virus.
The latest situation report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 29, 2017 has shown that no new cases of Ebola had been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since May 11, 2017. The cases remain in the Likati Health Zone and the count remains as follows: “2 confirmed cases (from Nambwa), 3 probable cases (2 from Nambwa, 1 from Ngayi), and 14 suspected cases (Nambwa, Muma, Ngayi, Azande, Ngabatala, Mobenge and Mabongo).” According to WHO, “6 of the 14 suspected cases have tested PCR-negative for Ebola virus disease and are awaiting serology testing for further analysis.” In addition, 101 individuals who came in contact with those who are infected, or suspected to be infected, continue to be monitored.
WHO is not taking any chance with the response to this recent Ebola outbreak and is in fact, working with experts to create models that would predict outcomes should the outbreak spread. So far, as more time passes between the initial outbreak and the appearance of new cases, the majority of the simulated scenarios (72%) “predict no further cases in the next 30 days.” In addition, mobile laboratories have been working diligently to quickly identify if suspected cases of Ebola infection are actual cases. This is important to ensure that precious resources are only being used to trace back those who came in contact with individuals who tested positive for the virus. Given the remote location of the outbreak, these mobile laboratories are a vital part of the outbreak response, ensuring rapid and robust surveillance and testing. According to WHO, “Anyone presenting with certain pre-defined symptoms, such as sudden onset of fever and/or unexplained bleeding, is considered a suspect Ebola case until laboratory results prove otherwise.”
WHO is working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Ministry of Health of the DRC “to [also] consider conducting ring vaccination as part of the response.” Recent reports revealed the Ministry of Health has given a “non-objection” to the administration of the vaccine and that the MSF is working with technical teams on establishing a protocol. “The vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV and developed by Merck, is not yet licensed but was shown to be highly protective against Ebola in clinical trials published last December,” according to a Reuters report. The latest WHO situation report indicates that, “The protocol for a possible ring vaccination has been formally approved by the national regulatory authority and Ethics Review Board of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Vaccine.” Transportation of the vaccine is among the main concerns as it needs to be kept in storage containers kept at, “minus 80 degrees Celsius.”
A total of 7 response committees have been formed and deployed to handle the outbreak from multiple angles (from water sanitation and hygiene, to logistics and communication), and at this time, they are all fully functioning on a national level. These response efforts do not come without incurring costs, however. An estimated 6-month budget of $10.5 million has been requested to ensure that teams can effectively perform their functions, which range from surveying and investigating new cases, engaging with the community, and even providing “safe and dignified burial and decontamination.” Moreover, according to WHO, “funds have been requested to provide free health care in each health area and costs have been evaluated at $300 per health area, per month.”
WHO is also reporting the detection of “unusually high mortality in the local swine population in the Nambwa Health Area.” Whether these deaths are related to the Ebola outbreak in humans remains to be seen; however, “61 samples have now been collected for testing, including: blood samples from 30 pigs and 2 goats, and nasal swabs from 29 pigs.”