Fears Ebola could spread to Uganda grow as hundreds flee the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid political unrest after presidential election
- The country held an election on Sunday which has sparked protests
- Dozens of refugees are arriving in Uganda, with some refusing medical tests
- Experts fear they will spread the deadly Ebola virus to the country
- At least 361 people are feared to have died since August in DRC’s outbreak
The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is at risk of spreading out of the country as refugees flee to Uganda.
Hundreds of people have crossed the border from the afflicted north-east of the DRC following a presidential election on Sunday.
Around one million people were prevented from voting because of the risk of spreading the deadly virus.
Violence and protests broke out as a result and people are now heading to Uganda for safety, but risk taking Ebola with them, experts fear.
The concerns add to those about the virus being transmitted by people travelling during the busy Christmas and New Year period.
DRC’s current outbreak is the second worst in history, killing at least 361 people since it began in August – and the death toll is accelerating.
A presidential election on Sunday caused protests across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (pictured, protestors in Kinshasa, the country’s capital). In the north-east province of North Kivu, where the Ebola outbreak is raging, people have fled to Uganda to escape violence
A Red Cross official yesterday raised concerns about the disease spreading into Uganda, which has been unaffected so far.
And the World Health Organization is urging a vaccine manufacturer to make more in a bid to try and control the spread.
Some Congolese people have been forced back to their home country after refusing medical tests at the Ugandan border, the Red Cross reported.
The refugee influx started on Monday and dozens of people have been arriving at a time, said Irene Nakasiita, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Uganda.
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Ebola aid centres were attacked during protests before the election and now the country’s internet has been cut off, further affecting response efforts.
Violence has escalated since the election, experts said, prompting people to leave their homes and some to flee to Uganda to get out of danger.
Online access has been restricted to stop people speculating about election results on social media.
But DRC’s health ministry said ‘technical problems’ caused a delay in sending out its daily update on the Ebola outbreak.
Fears of the outbreak spreading are not new – countries bordering the DRC, including Uganda, are already on high alert, as health experts said the virus ‘moves closer every day’.
Officials last month warned thousands would travel across the border to visit family and buy food during the festive period, potentially taking the virus with them.
At least 361 people are believed to have died in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – an unusual number of children were dying of the virus last autumn, when experts realised they were contracting it when visiting medical centres
A woman cries next to the coffin of a child who is believed to have died of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu – the outbreak there is expected to last at least another six months
Unrest and violence has made the current Ebola outbreak difficult to control because people have attacked and kidnapped health workers and others have fled their homes, making it difficult to track the spread of the virus (pictured, police officers guard a polling station in the capital of Kinshasa, which has so far remained untouched by Ebola)
‘The next month, over Christmas and New Year, will be critical to what happens to this outbreak,’ Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told MailOnline in December.
Around 600 cases have been reported in the Ebola outbreak, and deaths have been increasing in recent months.
Approximately a third of all people who have died – 125 of the 361 – did so between November 24 and December 28.
The outbreak has been difficult to control because of armed violence and community protests.
And the violence has increased ‘in intensity and frequency,’ the head of the WHO said on Wednesday.
Ebola (pictured) is a virus spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, and can still spread after death
And yet ‘there is reason to be hopeful’ the outbreak will be brought under control as soon as possible, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Some of the Ebola cases in this outbreak have been reported close to the heavily traveled border with Uganda.
For months, Ugandan officials have been screening everyone passing through official border posts.
The Ebola virus is spread through direct contact with the fluids of an infected person.
More than 50,000 people have received an experimental vaccine.
Dr Ghebreyesus said there were enough doses of the vaccine available ‘but at the same time we have already requested the supplier to produce more.’
There were separate concerns about the virus spreading when 24 patients last week escaped from a medical centre.
Two dozen potentially contagious people broke out of a centre in Beni, in the north-east of the African country, when it was attacked by protestors.
The patients who escaped were being held in a camp with suspected Ebola but hadn’t yet been confirmed.
Demonstrators attacked the camp after elections planned for Sunday, December 23, were postponed because of fears of violence and the Ebola outbreak.
‘Of 24 patients, 17 had tested negative (for Ebola) once. They had to be tested a second time before being discharged,’ a spokeswoman for DRC’s health ministry said last week.
‘Four of them went home. Three other suspected cases were in too serious a case to flee.’
But some of the demonstrators went into contaminated zones of the camp, according to one aid worker, adding more potential for the spread of the virus.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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