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Travel curbs to DRC could hurt Ebola policies – AU official

  • 19 Jul 2019

Restrictions on travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo would "impede our ability to effectively control" Ebola virus, Dr John N Nkengasong, a top health officer at African Union said.

A health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi health centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. July 17, 2019. ( Reuters )

A top health official at the African Union on Friday warned against curbing travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) despite the "high" threat of the spread of the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak on record.

"We want to be sure that the international community and member states in Africa do not impose any restrictions on travels to anyone going into or coming outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Dr John N Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said this would "impede our ability to effectively control the virus."

The Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC began a year ago and has killed more than 1,700 people out of more than 2,500 cases.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday there were currently no cases outside DRC, but several cases were recorded in Uganda last month, including two deaths.

International emergency

DRC's Health Ministry said on Thursday that Ugandan officials were tracing the contacts of a fishmonger who crossed from eastern DRC into Uganda's Kasese district and vomited four times in a market before returning to Congo, where she died July 15.

The WHO this week declared the outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern," a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics.

Officials are especially concerned about the first case recorded this week in the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, a city of about one million people situated on the shore of Lake Kivu.

Goma is adjacent to the Rwandan town Kisenyi. 

It has a port that links to the DRC city of Bukavu in South Kivu province as well as an airport with flights to the capital Kinshasa, Uganda's Entebbe and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

At Friday's press conference, Nkengasong noted that tens of thousands of people cross from DRC into Uganda on market days, raising the possibility of the disease spreading.

"The threat is high. As we speak there is no Ebola disease outbreak in Uganda, but the mass movement of people suggests that it can happen," he said.

'Game-changer'

In response to the WHO's declaration this week, the African Union plans to deploy members of its African Voluntary Health Corps to DRC.

Nkengasong said the corps had been a "game-changer" during the Ebola outbreak that devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

Pervasive insecurity in eastern DRC has undermined efforts to bring the outbreak under control. Nkengasong said he planned to brief the African Union Peace and Security Council on the situation next week.

"We have to do something extraordinary to guarantee the security of the response area so that we can actually bring this rapidly to an end," he said.

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