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Ebola: Facing off against a deadly virus
MSF emergency teams are on the ground responding to the current outbreak of Ebola in the north of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The outbreak has reached the city of Mbandaka, home to over a million people.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it, causing terror among infected communities.
Ebola is so infectious that patients need to be treated in isolation by staff wearing protective clothing.
“This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo in the last 40 years. So far, all of them have occurred in remote and isolated areas, as was the case last year in Likati, when the epidemic didn’t spread.” explains Henry Gray, MSF Emergency Coordinator in Mbandaka.
With the new case confirmed in Mbandaka, the scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area.
"It is paramount to trace the suspect case in order to have a clearer view on how it reached the city. We are working closely with the Ministry of Health and the other organizations in the field to implement a coordinated, tailored and rapid response to stop the spread of Ebola.”
MSF teams are currently in the Mbandaka and Bikoro areas and are setting up two Ebola treatment centres of 20 beds each. MSF has also nearly 60 tonnes of supplies to affected areas.
Voluntary Ebola vaccinations have begun for frontline healthcare workers and those in contact with suspected cases.
The vaccination is being carried out alongside MSF’s research arm, Epicentre, in Equateur Province, where we have been working alongside the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) over the past few weeks.
This investigational vaccine has not yet been licensed and is being implemented through a study protocol, which has been accepted by national authorities and the Ethical Review Board in Kinshasa, as well as MSF’s Ethical Review Board. The protocol defines to whom, when and how the vaccine should be given
Based on the results of these trials we are confident in using the vaccine for this current outbreak
“Given that it has not yet been licensed, we will be closely monitoring the vaccination. (Micaela Serafini, Medical Director of MSF in Geneva.)
“The results of the trial suggest that the vaccine will present a real benefit to people at high risk of contracting Ebola, protecting them against the infection. However, vaccination remains just one additional tool in the fight against the disease. Identifying patients and contacts is the first step.”
Participants receive information on the vaccine before consenting, and will be carefully monitored over a period of time. Participation is voluntary and the vaccination is free.
How a ‘ring vaccination’ works
The vaccination will be administered using a ‘ring’ approach. This involves identifying newly diagnosed and laboratory-confirmed Ebola patients and locating the people they have been in contact with. These people and their contacts — often family members, neighbours, colleagues and friends of the patient — will constitute the ‘ring’. Ebola health workers in the affected area will also be offered the possibility of vaccination, as they are most at risk of exposure to the virus and as such of developing the disease.
Ring vaccination ensures that the vaccination of people who are in the ‘ring’ create a buffer zone — or protective ring — to prevent the spread of infection.
Survivor Wangui's story
Despite being one of the world’s deadliest diseases, people can recover. On 13 May, 29-year-old Wangui Nondi was admitted to MSF's Ebola treatment centre in Bikoro, Democratic Republic of Congo. It was confirmed that he had Ebola. Nine days later, on 22 May, Wangui walked out of the clinic a healthy man.