DRC Ebola cases mount, with in-school infection a new worry

In-school transmission
New York City–based humanitarian nonprofit the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said yesterday that the disease has now spread in a DRC school. The IRC also noted in a news release that the number of new cases each day has more than doubled since Oct 1, likely spurred by a suspension of response activities late last month in Beni because of rebel violence.

“This is a sign not only that the outbreak is not under control, but that without full engagement from the community, things could get a lot worse,” said Michelle Gayer, the IRC’s senior director of emergency health.

Gayer added, “We have recently seen the transmission of Ebola within a school, opening up a new front in the fight against the disease.” She expressed deep concern over interruptions in response efforts in Beni.

“We are operating within a highly volatile environment where the security situation continues to deteriorate, threatening the lives and livelihoods of the community and disrupting the response. Programs are again suspended today due to unrest and violence. Each time the Ebola response is interrupted lives are at risk. Teams are not able to trace the contacts of patients, vaccinate those in need and ensure safe burial practices,” she said.

“We are at a critical moment in the response and our teams are highly concerned that the number of new cases could continue to escalate,” Geyer said. “It’s vital that over the coming days organizations continue to work alongside the local community to strengthen the relationship and work to increase access to people in need.”

No quick end in sight
Peter Salama, the WHO director of emergency response, told Reuters today that he sees no quick solution to ending the DRC epidemic.

“We anticipate that now we’ll be looking at least another 3-4 months in order to really stem this outbreak, with a strong focus in Beni and surrounding areas,” he said. “I’d say that’s the best case scenario.”

Salama added that the next few days will reveal whether the latest wave in Beni is over, and much depends on the security of responders in the region and the level of community resistance.

“If, however, this peak is accompanied by a peak in insecurity which limits our ability to get to all these cases and their contacts, then we could see a much larger wave building. A lot is depending on that security situation,” he added.