African Union warns travel curbs would hurt DRC’s Ebola response

A senior health official of the African Union (AU) warned against travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid growing concerns about the possibility of the Ebola outbreak in the country spreading further in the region.

According to the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the current outbreak of Ebola has killed more than 1,700 people, more than two thirds of those who contracted it, since it emerged in the provinces of North East Kivu and Ituri , in the country, last August.

Combined, the two provinces border Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan.

“We want to make sure that the international community and the African member states do not impose travel restrictions on people entering or leaving the DRC,” John Nkengasong, director of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UA (CDC) said on Friday.

Doing so “would hamper our ability to effectively control the virus,” Nkengasong told reporters at the UA headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

‘Do not panic’

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the epidemic a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), only days after the virus spread to a major urban center for the first time and lifted the spectrum of a rapid increase in transmission rates. .

A PHEIC is a rare designation that is used only for the most serious epidemics and that was only applied four times in the past.

Making a declaration of this kind generally increases world attention and can stimulate an increase in international aid.

The WHO said the measure acknowledged the “possible increase in national and regional risks and the need for intensified and coordinated action to manage them”, but also said that no country should close its borders or impose restrictions on travel or trade due to to Ebola.

Any closure of the borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo could hinder the movement of people and medical supplies inside or outside the affected area, which could hinder the efforts of the response teams to end the epidemic.

“Essentially for the rest of the world, the main recommendation is to support DRC and not to panic,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said on Friday. “Do not close the borders, do not apply travel and trade restrictions, do not panic.”

‘Perfect storm’

On Sunday, the health ministry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo registered the first case of Ebola in Goma, a city of some two million inhabitants in North Kivu and near the border with Rwanda.

Goma has a port that connects with the city of Bukavu in the neighboring province of South Kivu, as well as an airport with flights to the capital, Kinshasa, Entebbe, Uganda and Addis Ababa.

Apart from the case in Goma, and three fatal cases in Uganda last month, the outbreak was limited to other mostly rural regions of North Kivu and Ituri.

The WHO said on Thursday that there are currently no cases outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the police imposed handwashing and fever control at the country’s border with Rwanda.

But efforts to end the epidemic have been repeatedly hampered by a “perfect storm” of regional insecurity in eastern DRC and deep community mistrust over the crisis and towards authorities.

Unidentified attackers killed two Ebola health workers near Mukulia in North Kivu last week, the latest in a string of assaults against medical personnel or health facilities.

Amid the unrest, health workers have vaccinated some 160,000 people. The vaccine is experimental but is estimated to be 97.5 percent effective and, according to the WHO, may protect a person for up to 12 months.

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