The World Health Organization is preparing for the “worst-case scenario” as it continues to respond to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Peter Salama, deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response at the WHO, said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday that it’s “going to be tough and it’s going to be costly to stamp out this outbreak.”
There have been 34 cases of Ebola virus disease reported during the past five weeks, the WHO said Friday. Of those, two have been confirmed using laboratory tests, 14 are suspected, and 18 — who are deceased — are considered probable for the disease. Three of the patients are health care workers.
“The number of suspected, probable and confirmed cases is significant, so we are very concerned, and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario,” Salama said.
Ebola virus disease, which most commonly affects people and nonhuman primates such as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees, is caused by one of five Ebola viruses. On average, about 50% of people who become ill with Ebola die.
The disease is endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and this is the nation’s ninth outbreak since the discovery of the virus in the country in 1976.
The latest outbreak is occurring in the Bikoro health zone, 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province.
Bikoro health zone has a population of about 163,000, with three hospitals and 19 health centers, most with limited functionality, according to the WHO.
Given the remote location of the outbreak, Salama said, response efforts will be extremely challenging. “It is a dire scene in terms of infrastructure,” he said.
“To give you a sense, we are talking about an area that is 280 kilometers even from the provincial capital of Equateur,” he said.
The WHO is working with authorities in Congo and is in discussions with the World Food Programme to arrange airlifting supplies to the affected areas. UNICEF is also making doctors available as well as sanitation and hygiene specialists to help contain the outbreak.