Ebola Death Toll Crosses 2,000 DR Congo Ahead Of UN chief’s Visit

Health workers participating in an Ebola preparedness drill. AFP photo.

 

The Ebola outbreak in DR Congo showed no signs of easing Friday on the eve of the UN chief’s visit to the country, with the death toll from the highly contagious virus crossing 2,000 and a new fatality in neighbouring Uganda.

The latest casualty in Uganda was a nine-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo, reviving fears that the virus could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it erupted in August last year.

DR Congo health officials said late Thursday that there have been “2,006 deaths (1,901 confirmed and 105 probable)” since August 2018. adding that 902 people had been cured.

The toll is a setback coming a day before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits for a first-hand assessment of the fightback.

Guterres wants to “express support for the teams engaged in the Ebola fightback,” the UN said.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

Containment efforts have been hindered by conflict in eastern DRC as well as attacks on Ebola fighters within affected communities.

“For the moment, the situation is better than the past weeks. But in certain zones, there are many cases of community resistance. These are the zones which have brought forth the most confirmed cases,” Robert Bahidika Nasekwa from Oxfam said.

“As a result, those who came in contact with confirmed cases have not been followed up,” he said.

Jean-Edmond Bwanakawa Masumbuko, the mayor of Beni — a major city which Guterres is due to visit — said some people “had the tendency of viewing Ebola treatment centres as deathtraps.

“Out of the city’s 14 zones, there are only four which continue to pose problems,” he said.

Fourth Uganda death

The nine-year-old girl who tested positive in Uganda after travelling from DR Congo died early Friday, a Ugandan health official told AFP.

“She passed on at around 0800 (0500 GMT) this morning,” said Yusuf Baseka, health director in Kasese, a district in southwestern Uganda along the border with DR Congo.

The child was diagnosed after exhibiting symptoms at a border crossing in Kasese on Wednesday.

She was subsequently isolated and transferred to an Ebola treatment unit.

The girl is the fourth victim diagnosed with Ebola in Uganda, which has been on high alert since last year, to have died from the virus.

In June, three members of a single-family tested positive after entering from DR Congo. Two died in Uganda, while the third succumbed to the disease after returning to DR Congo.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in the North Kivu province in eastern DR Congo on August 1, 2018, and spread to the neighbouring Ituri province.

The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.

The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with the time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.

Stepped up checks

The WHO has declared the epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern”.

The virus has also spread to DR Congo’s South Kivu province, which shares a land border with Rwanda and Burundi.

Screening is vital but imperfect.

Ebola can take up to three weeks to incubate and cannot be spread until the infected person has symptoms, the WHO says.

But it can be difficult to clinically tell Ebola from malaria, typhoid fever or meningitis.

Uganda has stepped up checks for hundreds of schoolchildren who cross over from DR Congo every day to attend school there as jobs and educational opportunities are greater.

But it is not without inconvenience.

“Sometimes we get to school late, because we have to be in line for checking and it takes time,” said Doreane Kambari, a 16-year-old attending high school in Bwera in Kasese.

AFP

Ebola Death Toll Crosses 2,000 In DR Congo

 

The Ebola outbreak showed no signs of easing in DR Congo Friday on the eve of the UN chief’s visit, with the death toll from the highly contagious virus crossing 2,000 and a new fatality in neighbouring Uganda.

The latest casualty in Uganda was a nine-year-old girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo, reviving fears that the virus could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it erupted in August last year.

DR Congo health officials said late Thursday that there have been “2,006 deaths (1,901 confirmed and 105 probable)” since August 2018.

“Since the start of the epidemic, the number of cases is 3,004, including 2,899 confirmed and 105 probable,” a bulletin said, adding that 902 people had been cured.

The toll is a setback for the beleaguered country, coming a day before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits for a first-hand assessment of the fightback.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

Containment efforts have been hindered by conflict in eastern DRC as well as attacks on Ebola fighters within affected communities.

Fourth Uganda Death

The nine-year-old girl who tested positive in Uganda after travelling from DR Congo died early Friday, a Ugandan health official told AFP.

“She passed on at around 0800 (0500 GMT) this morning,” said Yusuf Baseka, health director in Kasese, a district in southwestern Uganda along the border with DR Congo.

The child was diagnosed after exhibiting symptoms at a border crossing in Kasese on Wednesday.

She was subsequently isolated and transferred to an Ebola treatment unit.

The girl is the fourth victim diagnosed with Ebola in Uganda, which has been on high alert since last year, to have died from the virus.

In June, three members of a single family tested positive after entering from DR Congo. Two died in Uganda, while the third succumbed to the disease after returning to DR Congo.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in the North Kivu province in eastern DR Congo on August 1, 2018, and spread to the neighbouring Ituri province.

The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.

The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with the time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.

Stepped Up Checks

Ebola is named after a river in northern DR Congo, formerly named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976.

The WHO has declared the epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern”.

The virus has also spread to DR Congo’s South Kivu province, which shares a land border with Rwanda and Burundi.

Screening is vital, but imperfect.

Ebola can take up to three weeks to incubate and cannot be spread until the infected person has symptoms, the WHO says.

But it can be difficult to clinically tell Ebola from malaria, typhoid fever or meningitis.

Uganda has stepped up checks for hundreds of schoolchildren who cross over from DR Congo every day to attend school there as jobs and educational opportunities are greater.

But it is not without inconvenience.

“Sometimes we get to school late, because we have to be in line for checking and it takes time,” said Doreane Kambari, a 16-year-old attending high school in Bwera in Kasese.

Francis Tumwine, an International Committee of the Red Cross worker at Mpondwe, said creating public awareness of the disease was critically important to quashing the rumours around it.

“The fear of Congolese children bringing Ebola into schools was very real,” he told AFP.

“But we taught people about the virus, and they now know what to do.”

Nine-Year-Old Girl Dies From Ebola

 

A nine-year-old girl who tested positive for Ebola in Uganda after travelling from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo has died, a Ugandan health official told AFP on Friday.

“She passed on at around 0800 (0500 GMT) this morning,” said Yusuf Baseka, health director in Kasese, a district in southwestern Uganda along the border with DR Congo.

The child, who is of Congolese origin, was diagnosed after exhibiting symptoms at a border crossing in Kasese district on Wednesday.

She was subsequently isolated and transferred to an Ebola treatment unit.

Her body would be repatriated to DR Congo later Friday, Dr Baseka said.

The girl is the fourth victim diagnosed with Ebola in Uganda to have died from haemorrhagic fever.

In June, three members of a single-family tested positive for Ebola in Uganda after entering from DR Congo. Two died in Uganda, while the third succumbed to the disease after returning to DR Congo.

Uganda has been on high alert since the start of an Ebola outbreak in neighbouring DR Congo in August 2018.

Health officials in DR Congo said Friday that the death toll from that epidemic had crossed 2,000 people.

DRC Ex-Health Minister Questioned Over Use Of Ebola Funds

File: Health workers are seen inside the ‘red zone’ of an Ebola treatment centre, which was attacked in the early hours of the morning in Butembo. / AFP

 

Oly Ilunga, who resigned as DR Congo health minister last month, was questioned on Tuesday as part of an enquiry into the use of public funds earmarked to tackle the Ebola epidemic, his lawyer said.

The former minister’s evidence was heard by the attorney general and “trusts in the justice system of his country,” lawyer Guy Kabeya told AFP.

A judicial source said Ilunga had left “freely”.

Three of the minister’s former co-workers, including a doctor, were held in custody the source added, confirming a report by the Top Congo radio station.

The hearings were part of a preliminary inquiry “into the management of substantial funds provided by the government for the battle against the Ebola virus,”  which has claimed almost 2,000 lives, another source said.

Ilunga resigned last month, citing his removal as the head of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola response team and concerns over a proposed “experiment” with a new, unlicensed vaccine.

Nearly 170,000 people have been given an Ebola vaccine manufactured by German pharma giant Merck since the outbreak started in the Democratic Republic of Congo a year ago.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been pushing for the introduction of a second vaccine produced by US company Johnson & Johnson, but the health ministry under Ilunga has resisted such a move, citing the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.

The Merck vaccine is tested but unlicensed, while the Johnson & Johnson drug is still in the trial investigation stage.

The vast central African nation’s new point man on Ebola, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, told reporters on Tuesday that “we now have the situation on the ground under control.”

“There is great hope that thing will get a lot better in the days to come, he added, thanking China for 60 tonnes of medical equipment to tackle the problem.

Since August last year, Ebola has killed more than 1,900 people in the DR Congo, the second-biggest epidemic since more than 11,300 people died in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014 and 2016.

AFP

Seven-Year-Old Boy Killed In DR Congo’s Ebola Surge

 

A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo’s South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.

The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.

“A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola” in South Kivu’s Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu’s provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu’s capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.

She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.

Bahizire said that “two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu’s transit centre”.

The two women “were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga,” he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.

According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.

Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.

“We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 per cent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough,” he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.

AFP

First Confirmed Ebola Cases In DR Congo’s South Kivu Province

 

The eastern DR Congo province of South Kivu has recorded its first confirmed cases of Ebola in the country’s year-old epidemic, one of which was a fatality, the provincial government said Friday.

“Two cases which tested positive for Ebola were confirmed overnight in South Kivu, in Lwindi district in the Mwenga region,” it said in a statement.

“A 26-year-old victim died and (one of their) children who tested positive is still alive and being treated,” it said.

More than 1,900 people have died from Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo since August 1, 2018, when the haemorrhagic virus erupted in North Kivu province and spread to neighbouring Ituri province.

South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje told reporters: “Teams from the national anti-Ebola coordination campaign arrived yesterday to provide support.”

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted the outbreak in South Kivu “has sparked a rapid response… to provide treatment, identify all contacts, raise community awareness & begin vaccinating”.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was “rapidly deploying an expert team” to the area.

South Kivu had experienced a Ebola scare on July 31 when doctors briefly quarantined 15 people in the town of Birava over fears they were infected, but tests came back negative.

Ebola is named after a river in northern DRC, then named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976 by a Belgian-led scientific team.

The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, internal and external bleeding.

The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.

The outbreak is the deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.

The cases in South Kivu come on the heels of an announcement of a breakthrough in the quest for drug to treat Ebola.

US researchers on Monday said two prototype drugs, known by their lab names as REGN-EB3 and mAb114, slashed mortality rates among Ebola patients in a trial in eastern DRC.

The authorities have also deployed a US-made vaccine called rVSV-ZEBOV, which is unlicensed but has been widely tested for safety, to protect health workers in the campaign against Ebola.

Nearly 200,000 people have received the jab.

Burundi on Wednesday said it had begun immunising frontline workers with the vaccine at its border with DRC.

Burundi Starts Vaccinating Health Workers Against Ebola

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that Burundi had begun vaccinating frontline workers against Ebola at its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak of the virus has killed close to 1,900 people.

The campaign to vaccinate at-risk staff against the deadly hemorrhagic fever started Tuesday at Gatumba, the main crossing point from Burundi to its much-larger neighbour, WHO said.

Burundi has received doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, an unlicensed product that has been shown to be effective against the Zairian strain of the virus raging in DR Congo.

It would be administered to those at greatest risk such as health workers along the border, laboratory staff and burial teams, WHO said.

“The vaccination of health and frontline staff is a significant step forward in preparing for the response to this disease,” said Dr Kazadi Mulombo, WHO representative in Burundi.

The vaccine, developed by US pharmaceutical group Merck, proved “highly effective” in a trial conducted in Guinea in 2015 during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, he added.

The vaccination campaign will be overseen by WHO and Burundi’s health ministry.

The Ebola outbreak in eastern DR Congo is the second-worst in history. A total of 1,892 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak began on August 1 2018.

No cases of Ebola have been recorded so far in Burundi, a tiny nation of 11 million.

But its border with DR Congo is 236 kilometres (147 miles) long and considered highly porous, and the whole region is on high alert.

In June, three people from one family died in Uganda from Ebola after returning from DR Congo via an unofficial crossing point.

Burundi also shares a border with Rwanda and Tanzania.

The Congo outbreak is the first where vaccines have been rolled out on a large-scale.

The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine has already been administered to some 170,000 people, especially frontline workers, in DR Congo.

This week, US researchers announced that two prototype drugs being tested among Ebola patients in eastern DR Congo boost chances of surviving the disease.

AFP

Two Ebola Drugs Found To Increase Survival Rates – Health Officials

A young man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo on August 7, 2019. 
Augustin WAMENYA / AFP

 

Scientists were a step closer to a cure for Ebola on Monday after two of four drugs in a clinical trial were found to significantly increase survival rates, the US health authority co-funding the research said.

The study began last November in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but its current phase will now be stopped and all future patients switched over to the two treatments that have shown positive results, the US National Institutes of Health said in a statement.

“The preliminary results in 499 study participants indicated that individuals receiving REGN-EB3 or mAb114 had a greater chance of survival compared to participants in the other two arms.”

Patients who were receiving the two drugs that are being discontinued, Zmapp and remdesivir, will now have the option at the discretion of their treating physician to receive the treatments that have been shown to work.

The NIH added the final analysis of the data would occur in late September or early October, after which the complete results would be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed medical literature.

The NIH, Democratic Republic of Congo health authorities and the World Health Organization hailed the “extraordinary team of individuals who have worked under extremely difficult conditions to carry out this study,” as well as the patients and their families.

“It is through this type of rapidly implemented, rigorous research that we can quickly and definitively identify the best treatments and incorporate them into the Ebola outbreak response,” they said.

Jeremy Farrar, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust research charity, said the development would “undoubtedly save lives,” adding: “Thanks to this trial, we are starting to understand which treatments to offer to patients in this and future outbreaks.”

“The more we learn about these two treatments, and how they can complement the public health response, including contact tracing and vaccination, the closer we can get to turning Ebola from a terrifying disease to one that is preventable and treatable.”

A young man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse in Goma on August 7, 2019. 
Augustin WAMENYA / AFP

 

More than 1,800 people have died in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since Ebola broke out there in August last year.

The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals, then spreads among humans through direct contact with the blood or other secretions of infected people or with surfaces contaminated with their fluids, according to the World Health Organization.

The average fatality rate for people with the disease is around 50 per cent.

AFP

Uganda Begins Trial Of Ebola Vaccine

 

Uganda said Monday it had started a trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine that may be used in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where an outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people.

The trial of the MVA-BN vaccine developed by Johnson&Johnson is expected to last two years, Uganda’s Medical Research Council (MRC) said.

The vaccine will be administered to up to 800 health professionals and frontline workers such as cleaners, ambulance personnel and mortuary and burial teams, in the western district of Mbarara, the MRC said in a statement.

MRC spokeswoman Pamela Nabukenya Wairagala said vaccinations had already begun.

READ ALSO: Lightning Kills Six Children In Guinea

The MRC said the trial would be led by Ugandan researchers and supported by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

At present, there is no licenced drug to prevent or treat Ebola although a range of experimental drugs are in development.

The Congo outbreak is the first time that a vaccine has been used as a full-scale weapon against the virus.

Health authorities have been issuing the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine, developed by US pharma group Merck — a product that has yet to be licenced but has been shown to be safe and effective.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for its deployment to be expanded and has recommended the Johnson&Johnson vaccine also be rolled out in order to meet needs.

However, the latter move has been resisted.

Critics have cautioned against introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.

Congo’s former health minister, Oly Ilunga, who stepped down in July, was among the detractors.

The MRC said the Johnson&Johnson vaccine “is safe” and had been tested on more than 6,000 people in Europe, the US and African nations including Uganda.

However, its efficacy is unclear because it has never been assessed in an outbreak scenario.

By comparison, rVSV-ZEBOV was introduced in Guinea towards the end of a 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa, enabling scientists to conclude it was effective.

The trial taking place in Uganda, where there is no Ebola, will look at the response of the immune system to the vaccine — a key pointer of effectiveness.

It will also look at safety and the attitudes of participants towards the vaccine, the MRC said.

Professor Pontiano Kaleebu, the lead Ugandan researcher in the trial, said developing a reliable vaccine was a key component to controlling Ebola epidemics.

“In this trial, we hope to avail more information that will help us work towards having a licenced Ebola vaccine,” Kaleebu said in a statement.

Uganda has suffered Ebola outbreaks in the past but nothing on the scale of the Congo epidemic, which began in August 2018.

It is the second-worst outbreak on record, eclipsed only by 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,300 out of 29,000 documented cases.

Uganda has been declared Ebola-free though in June three people from one family died there from the haemorrhagic fever after crossing back from Congo.

AFP

Rwanda Shuts Border With DRC Over Ebola Scare

 

Rwanda has shut its frontier with Ebola-hit Democratic Republic of Congo after a third case of the deadly virus was detected in the border city of Goma, the Congolese presidency said Thursday.

In a statement, it said there had been a “unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities” that affected citizens from both countries who had to cross the border as part of their daily life.

Goma, a city of two million people and a major transport hub, shares the border with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of more than 85,000.

Cross-frontier links are intense. Many people have jobs on the other side of the border while others have homes or put their children in schools in the neighbouring city.

READ ALSO: South Africa Unemployment Hits Record 29 Percent

“On the basis of a unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities, Rwandan citizens cannot go to Goma and Congolese cannot leave Gisenyi but are prevented from going home,” the statement said.

“This decision harms a number of Congolese and expatriates who live in Gisenyi but work in Goma.”

The announcement came just hours after a third case of Ebola was recorded in Goma, widening the scope of the epidemic on its first anniversary.

Since August 1 2018, 1,803 lives have been lost in the second worst outbreak of Ebola on record, according to figures released Wednesday.

Two of the three cases in Goma have died, sparking a race to find people who have had contact with these patients.

Health experts fear outbreaks of contagious diseases in major cities.

In an urban setting, density of population, anonymity and high mobility make it far harder to isolate patients and trace contacts compared to the countryside.

AFP

DR Congo Health Minister Resigns Over Ebola

Congo’s Health Minister Oly Ilunga gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting held by the United Nations on the Ebola disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 15, 2019, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

 

DR Congo’s health minister resigned Monday after President Felix Tshisekedi replaced him as the head of the country’s response to an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,700 people.

“As a result of your decision to place the response to the Ebola outbreak under your direct supervision… I hereby submit my resignation as health minister,” Oly Ilunga said in a letter to his boss.

AFP

DR Congo Urges Calm After Ebola Case In Key City

In this handout photograph released by UNICEF on May 13, 2018, health workers wear protective equipment as they prepare to attend to suspected Ebola patients at Bikoro Hospital – the epicenter of the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo PHOTO: MARK NAFTALIN / UNICEF / AFP

 

Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have appealed for calm after an evangelical preacher fell ill with Ebola in the eastern city of Goma, the first recorded case of the disease in the key urban hub in a nearly year-old epidemic.

Goma, a border city with a population of one million, lies next to the Rwandan town of Gisenyi and has transport links to other parts of the DRC and beyond.

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) described the case as a “potential game-changer” and said it would reconvene a key panel to see whether the outbreak required a heightened global response.

Rwanda, meanwhile, said it would step up border monitoring and urged its citizens to avoid “unnecessary” travel to the eastern DRC.

In a statement, North Kivu governor Carly Nzanzu Kasivita said the new case had been “detected at an early stage but also was isolated immediately, avoiding any further contamination.”

But, he added, “I call on the population of the city of Goma and its outskirts to keep calm… (and) cooperate with response teams, by observing hygiene and prevention measures and notifying any suspected case of Ebola,” he added.

READ ALSO: Ebola Patient In DR Congo City Of Goma Dies

According to the latest health ministry figures issued on Saturday, 1,655 people have died from the haemorrhagic virus since August 1 last year, when the disease broke out in North Kivu and spread to neighbouring Ituri.

Nearly 700 people have been cured, and more than 160,000 been vaccinated.

But efforts to roll back Ebola have been hampered by insecurity in a region plagued by militia groups, who have attacked treatment centres.

Local hostility to health workers trying to trace and isolate people in contact with Ebola patients is another hurdle.

Two more Ebola workers were murdered in their homes in the North Kivu town of Beni, the ministry said.

Evangelical preacher

The Goma patient was described as a pastor who had been on a trip to another town, Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the outbreak.

There, he preached at seven churches and regularly touched worshippers, “including the sick,” the health ministry said Sunday.

His symptoms first surfaced last Tuesday, it said.

On Friday he took a bus back to Goma from Butembo, along with 18 other passengers and the driver.

He went through several health checkpoints on the road “but did not seem to show signs of the disease. However, at each checkpoint, he wrote down different family names and forenames on the passenger list, which probably indicates a will to hide his identity and state of health,” the ministry said.

When he arrived back in Goma on Sunday morning, he went to a clinic because he had started to become feverish, the ministry said.

“Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low,” it said.

The pastor was swiftly taken back to Butembo, which is better prepared for handling Ebola cases than Goma, the authorities said.

The WHO said response teams had so far identified 60 people who had been in contact with the preacher, 30 of whom had now been vaccinated.

Threat assessment

In Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he planned to reconvene the agency’s emergency advisory board to assess whether the outbreak should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern” — a move that ramps up international response.

“The identification of the case in Goma could potentially be a game-changer in this epidemic,” Tedros warned.

The WHO panel has on three previous occasions held off making a formal emergency call for the DRC outbreak, citing the limited risk of large-scale international spread.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has suspended operations in the Beni-Butembo area because of the violence there, said the Goma case “shows that the situation is still worrying and the epidemic is still not under control.”

City worry

Experts fret when a contagious disease occurs in a city, where contact, mobility and anonymity make it far harder to contain an outbreak than in the countryside.

Goma is a border city located on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, adjacent to Rwanda.

It has a port that links to Bukavu and South Kivu and an airport with flights to Kinshasa, the Ugandan capital Entebbe and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

The driver of a motorbike taxi in Goma, who gave his name as Jean-Pierre, aged 30, said, “I hope the authorities do everything to trace these people — Goma is a huge crossroads, leading to several destinations.”

The latest epidemic is the second deadliest on record globally, after the outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.

AFP