Ebola has now killed more than 500 people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, figures from the country’s health ministry say. Ninety-seven of the dead children with majority of them under the age of five.
Records say that as at February 11, 816 people have been infected, 755 confirmed and 61 probable, and 513 have died.
The outbreak, the second worst in history, has ravaged the country since officials confirmed the return of the virus in August.
Thousands of lives are being saved by vaccinations but efforts to slow the spread are being hampered by widespread conflict and mistrust of government and health workers.
Daily Mail UK quoted Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s country director in the DRC, as saying: “We are at a crossroads. If we don’t take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.
“The DRC is a country suffering from violence and conflict and an extreme hunger crisis – some 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished.
“The main concerns for many people are safety and making sure they have enough to eat. But Ebola has to be a priority too.’
But Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said that, for the first time, a vaccination programme had protected 76,425 people and prevented ‘thousands’ of deaths.
“I believe we have prevented the spread of the epidemic in the big cities,’ he said. “The teams also managed to contain its the spread of the epidemic to neighbouring countries.”
Merck – the pharma giant behind the vaccine – delivered 2,160 doses to the African nation, and W.H.O experts say the vaccine has been highly effective.
The vaccine protects against the Zaire strain of the virus, which is the strain behind the current outbreak, which is the 10th in history.
Another major challenge is the high migration rate in the affected region which could spread the virus. Since the outbreak began, about 300,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Uganda.
According to a recent report written by a group of world experts in British medical journal, The Lancet, the outbreak is “not under control” and “bold measures” and “drastic action” are required from the W.H.O.
The Spanish wing of the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Saturday that countries bordering DRC – Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan – are now n alert.
This outbreak started in North Kivu region, which borders Uganda and Rwanda. It is second only to the 2013/2014 epidemic which killed 11,000 people across West Africa.