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New Ebola Outbreak in DR Congo is 'truly frightening' - Wellcome Trust Director

The head of a major medical research charity has called the latest outbreak of Ebola in central Africa "truly frightening". Dr Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, said the epidemic was the worst since that of 2013-16 and has showed "no sign of stopping". Nearly 1,400 people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

In a statement, Dr Farrar said the spread was "tragic but unfortunately not surprising". He warned that more cases were expected, and a "full" national and international response would be needed to protect lives. "The DRC should not have to face this alone," he said. Two people have also died in neighbouring Uganda, the first cases of Ebola reported in the country. A five-year-old boy infected with the virus died on Tuesday and his 50-year-old grandmother died on Wednesday, the Ugandan health ministry said. The Ugandan government has reported at least six other suspected cases of the virus.

 

Since the first case of Ebola in DR Congo last August, nearly 1,400 people have died, around 70% of all those infected. The outbreak is the second-largest in the history of the disease, with a significant spike in new cases in recent weeks. Only once before has an outbreak continued to grow more than eight months after it began, that was the epidemic in West Africa between 2013-16, which killed 11,310 people.

 

Efforts to contain the spread have been hindered by militia group violence and by suspicion towards foreign medical assistance. Nearly 200 health facilities have been attacked in DR Congo this year, forcing health workers to suspend or delay vaccinations and treatments. In February, medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) put its activities on hold in Butembo and Katwa - two eastern cities in the outbreak's epicentre.

 

In Uganda, a five-year-old boy died of the virus on Tuesday, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Officials said his grandmother and younger brother also had the disease. The boy is said to have travelled across the border with his family from DR Congo on Sunday. He was then taken to a Ugandan hospital after exhibiting symptoms, including vomiting blood, officials said. Seven other cases have been confirmed in the country, and Uganda's government said 50 people were suspected to have come into contact with those infected.

In Uganda, mass gatherings including market days and prayers have been cancelled. Market days in the town of Kasese attract an estimated 20,000 people at the border area. Uganda's health ministry and the WHO said a rapid response team had been dispatched to identify others at risk. The country has already vaccinated about 4,700 health workers against the disease, according to a joint statement by WHO and Ugandan health officials.

 

On Wednesday, WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he would hold an IHR Emergency Committee meeting on 14 June. The group will decide if the outbreak should now be deemed a public health emergency.
 

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