The eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has witnessed an outbreak of Ebola which poses a high regional risk given its proximity to borders, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
Four people have been tested positive for Ebola in and around Mangina, a town consisting nearly 60,000 people in North Kivu province, 100 km (62 miles) from the Ugandan border, the health ministry said.
Additionally, 20 people died from unidentified haemorrhagic fevers in the area, mostly in the second half of July.
The previous outbreak on the other side of the country was declared over just last week, after killing 33 people.
“It would appear that the risk, as we can surmise for DRC, is high. For the region it’s high given the proximity to borders, particularly Uganda,” said WHO’s emergency response chief Peter Salama.
“We are talking about tens of kilometres but I stress that this is very preliminary information at this stage.”
Ebola is believed to be transported long distances by bats and can find its way into bush meat sold at local markets and eaten. Once present in humans, it causes haemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through direct contact with body fluids. Over 11,300 people died of an epidemic in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.
The outbreak is also a challenge because the eastern Congo is prone to conflicts over land and ethnicity which has been present for decades and this could come in the way of efforts to contain the virus.
Meanwhile, the officials in Mangina rushed to educate people about the virus. Agents were deployed to warn people about the need for strict hygiene and the local radio station passed on messages about how to deal with it.
“There is a great panic among the local population following the appearance of the Ebola epidemic,” said a nurse by phone, who asked not to be named.
The hospital where she works has already seen three people die recently of haemorrhagic fever. The hospital was awaiting help from the Red Cross to bury the bodies properly, she said.
Uganda has started to screen at the land border it shares with Congo and at its Entebbe international airport as a precautionary measure.
“Ebola is highly infectious so we have put in place measures,” Uganda’s Junior Health Minister Sarah Achieng Opendi told.
An international delegation including officials from the United Nations, the World Bank and the WHO is in Beni, 30 km from Mangina.