Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have announced that the death toll has risen from 13 to 31, from an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Djera region of the DRC.
An expert on the epidemic and the current head of DR Congo’s National Research Institute of Biology, Professor Jacques Muyembe, who just came back from a fact finding mission in West Africa, as a representative of the Congolese Government, said that the virus in DRC can be contained much faster compared to the West Africa outbreak.
“What I saw in West Africa will go on for the next few months, at least for the next five months, especially in Liberia. But here at home, it’s an epidemic that would last between two to three months before it’s contained,” said Muyembe.
The outbreak in Congo’s Equateur province is thought to be separate from the epidemic in West Africa.
“The number of cases that we observed in Monrovia was much higher than anything we have had here in DRC, whenever we had an Ebola outbreak. The epidemic took them by surprise over there because they were not familiar with such a virus,” Muyembe said.
DR Congo’s infrastructure has been devastated by decades of corruption, conflict and misrule. The country, in 2013, came bottom of a United Nations development index.
However, despite these grim figures and the rise in the death toll, Muyembe believes with proper planning the virus can be contained.
“For the moment, everyone is panicking and they are trying to compare numbers with what’s happening in West Africa but these two epidemics are two different things because I was there and saw what was happening and it’s not going to happen here. We will be able to contain the epidemic much faster here. We will work in all transparency, so we shouldn’t really panic,” he said.
The Regional Virologist of the World Health Organisation, Professor Oyewale Tomori, believes that the only way for Nigeria to check the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease is to maintain the standard with which it has handled its first set of Ebola cases.
While admitting the deadliness of the disease, and acknowledging that the Nigerian Government has done well in managing it, he noted that there was need to do more in helping the people to douse the fears created by the disease, as this could be more dangerous.
He advised that reducing the level of panic across the country would be helped by the quality efforts put into the management of every case of fever in all hospitals across the country.
Prof. Tomori, who is also the President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, maintained that Ebola cannot be transmitted from a patient who hasn’t fallen sick but warned that this may not be applicable between couples and there was need for people to be supplied with information about such details.
The spread of the Ebola disease in West Africa has been quite rapid and considering that there had been an outbreak before in East Africa, which never escalated into an epidemic, Prof Tomori said that this can be blamed on the aggressive nature of the average West African who is less willing to adhere to instructions about his movement.
He recalled his experience during a similar outbreak in Uganda and DR Congo (former Zaire in East Africa) and how it was contained within two weeks, despite the situation looking gory as at when he arrived the country as an aid worker.
He noted that their governments came out and took action immediately and more importantly, the citizens were willing to listen and follow instructions given by health officials. He added that as long as the Ebola Virus Disease remains in other West African countries, Nigeria would be dreaming if it thinks the Ebola threat would be over by September 2014.
The index case of Patrick Sawyer came to the fore and the Prof. frowned at the manner in which Nigeria had been complacent in managing the information that was coming out of the initially affected countries. He said that Nigeria’s membership of the West African Health Organisation, WAHO was “only on paper, we have not really come to work together”.
He said that Nigeria should have been more proactive, because if the Nigerian embassies in these countries had been proactive, the entry of Sawyer into Nigeria could have been prevented.
The Ebola outbreak has changed the attitude of Nigerians to sanitation and personal hygiene and there are hopes that the new lifestyle would be maintained by many Nigerians and Prof Tomori shares same hopes but not without expressing doubts based on the Nigerian approach to challenges.
He said that he had noticed that once Nigeria overcomes a challenge it forgets about it until another problem comes. Therefore, institutionalizing these new personal and border hygiene practices would be the best way to approach things when the Ebola fight is over.
Prof. Tomori also said that Nigeria would need to do more in its border screening.
A special report by Channels Television had revealed how the screening at the Seme Border was being carried out and he referred to the structure as “a joke” adding that he expected Nigeria to set up its sanitary borders with military men to provide support.
The effectiveness of the drug, Zmapp, was also discussed. Prof Tomori said that the strength of the individual patient and the stage at which ZMapp was administered would determine how well it would work, as vital organs of the body must still be functioning well for ZMapp to be effective.
The possibility of an indigenous solution was also brought forward and Prof. Tomori said that indeed Nigerians have the human resources to develop a cure for Ebola with several brilliant persons in the health sector but the environment was not favourable.
The former Vice-Chancellor of the Redeemers’ University stressed the lack of consistent power supply, and the quality of communication services among the factors that would frustrate the idea of setting up a BSL-4 facility in Nigeria.
A biosafety level is a level of the biocontainment precautions required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility and Prof. Tomori stated that he would be reluctant to work in such a laboratory in Nigeria as it would be a risk of his life, except Nigeria improves on all the basic issues earlier mentioned.
Fielding questions from journalists at a forum in Abuja, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala explained that the rating was based on the large number of poor people living in the country, a phenomenon she said was peculiar to middle income countries, including Nigeria.
“India is a middle income country, one of the largest in the world, like Nigeria, is a big economy but the largest number of poor people in the world resides in India and China and other places.
“Most middle income countries, even Brazil have large numbers of poor people. That is the reality of today, Nigeria is no exception”, she said.
She explained further, “Today, if you go to the Chinese, they will tell you ‘let us slow down about praising China’ because we still have a substantial number of poor people; Brazil the same, that is why they started the safety net programme in Brazil and that is what President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has asked four or five of his ministers to get together and try to build this platform.
“So we should not try to single Nigeria out. What we have to do is focus on what is the answer, what are other countries doing that we can also learn from and do. Nobody says that everything is fine but we are learning and where we make some progress like other countries, we should also acknowledge it.”
Other countries also rated by the World Bank group as extremely poor are India, China, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya.
The World Bank Group has rated Nigeria among the world’s extremely poor countries, promising to assist in ending what it called ‘extreme poverty’ in the nations.
Other countries that were also rated as extremely poor are India, China, Bangladesh, DR Congo, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya.
At the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington on Wednesday, in advance of the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, World Bank President, Dr Jim Yong Kim, stated that the global bank would deal with the extreme poverty in Nigeria and its counterparts in the coming years.
Ending Extreme Poverty By 2030
He said: “The fact is that two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in just five countries: India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you add another five countries, Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya, the total grows to 80 per cent of the extreme poor.”
Dr Kim stressed that the World Bank Group would focus on Nigeria and other nine countries, but emphasised that the plan would not make other countries in the world to be ignored.
“We will have a strategy that ensures that no country is left behind, as we move toward the target of ending extreme poverty by 2030,″ he said.
The World Bank President also announced a series of measures aimed at strengthening the World Bank Group to better meet the evolving needs of clients, including a $100 billion increase in the lending capacity of the Bank’s lending arm for middle-income countries over the next decade.
According to Dr. Kim, this new innovations in financial management, and a boost in the institution’s ability to provide private sector support follows the record $52 billion replenishment of IDA, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, in December 2013.
Kim also outlined how the Bank was positioning itself to better achieve its goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity for the lowest 40 per cent in developing countries.
“We now have the capacity to nearly double our annual lending to middle-income countries from $15 billion to $26 to $28 billion a year. This means that the World Bank’s lending capacity will increase by $100 billion to roughly $300 billion over the next ten years.
“This is in addition to the largest IDA replenishment in history, with $52 billion in grants and concessional loans to support the poorest countries,” he said.
[highlight]Tax authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have failed to account for $88 million in revenue from the booming mining sector, according to a representative of a global anti-corruption campaign.[/highlight]
Congo has attracted international firms including Freeport-McMoRan, Glencore and Randgold to mine its rich copper, cobalt and gold deposits, but remains one of the most corrupt countries on earth.
The missing funds date from 2010 and tax bodies should have paid them into the central bank, said Mack Dumba Jeremy, national coordinator in Congo for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
But he said the DGRAD tax agency had been unable to prove that the payment was made. Attempts to find the money had been going on since January, said Jeremy, who stopped short of accusing the authorities of corruption.
“DGRAD must prove that the money actually arrived in the public treasury in 2010. If they can’t then the executive committee of EITI will go to the courts in order to launch an inquiry into the whereabouts of this $88 million,” Jeremy said.
EITI is an international initiative which aims to improve transparency in resource-rich countries by tallying up the amount paid by companies and how much governments say they receive.
Congo is currently a candidate to become a full member of EITI although it is unclear whether it will meet the standards required.
No one from DGRAD or the government was immediately available for comment. Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo has repeatedly promised to tackle corruption.
Matata Ponyo survived a challenge to his authority on Monday after more than 40 legislators who had previously signed a motion of censure against him withdrew their signatures.
Attempts were made by the scuppered opposition to force a vote of no confidence in the government for various alleged failings, including mismanagement of government funds.
Watchdog Transparency International ranks Congo 160th out of 176 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012, with a score of just 21 out of 100.
The UN Security Council has strongly condemned the resumption of rebel attacks in eastern DR Congo.
Meeting in emergency session, the Security Council called for m23 rebels to immediately halt their advance towards the provincial capital, Goma. It also demanded an end to outside support for the rebels, noting with concern that they were well equipped.
The rebels captured the town of Kibumba yesterday, despite bombardment by UN helicopter gunships.
Julien Paluku the North Kivu governor said the Congolese army retreated because the insurgents were armed with heavy weapons and backed by Rwandan troops.
Kigali denies the allegation but UN experts say they have evidence of Rwandan support for the rebels, and this week asked the Security Council to sanction senior Rwandan officials as a result.