KINSHASA – More than 500 people have died from the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a vaccination programme has prevented thousands of more deaths, the country’s health minister said.
“In total, there have been 502 deaths and 271 people cured,” said a health ministry bulletin published late on Friday, reporting on the outbreak in the east of the country.
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” in the region, he said.
“The teams also managed to contain its the spread of the epidemic to neighbouring countries,” he added.
“The biggest problem is the high mobility of the population,” the minister added.
The outbreak started last August in the North Kivu region, which borders Uganda and Rwanda.
The Spanish wing of the aid agency Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, reported on Twitter on Saturday that there had been a surge in cases since January 15.
Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan in the north were all now on alert, it added.
Ebola is a serious infectious disease that can spread rapidly through small amounts of bodily fluid, causing internal bleeding and potentially death.
The latest outbreak is the tenth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since Ebola was first detected there in 1976.
The deadly outbreak is the second largest in history, behind the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed thousands a few years ago, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The security situation in the east of the country, where armed rebels have terrorized the population for years, has made treating the disease difficult.