Nearly 50 staff from the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners arrived in Mbandaka in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday, location of the country’s latest Ebola outbreak.
The responders carried 3,500 doses of Ebola vaccine and 2,000 cartridges for lab testing, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists covering his regular virtual update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is an important reminder that even as WHO focuses on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies,” he said.
From east to west
The Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, located in Equateur province in northwest DRC – on the opposite side of the country to the worst epidemic in the country’s history that is petering out - was confirmed earlier this week.
So far, eight cases have been detected, four of whom have died.
“The latest person confirmed with Ebola attended the burial of one of the first cases, but was detected in the town of Bikoro, 150 kilometres away from Mbandaka. This means that two health zones are now affected,” said Tedros.
Mbandaka had suffered a previous Ebola outbreak in May 2018, which was halted in three months.
Meanwhile, the DRC is still fighting an Ebola outbreak in the east that emerged in August 2018, and now appears to be in its final stages.
COVID-19: Americas a concern
As of Wednesday, the global COVID-19 caseload had reached nearly 6.3 million, with nearly 380,000 deaths.
Tedros said more than 100,000 cases of the disease have been reported to WHO for each of the past five days.
The Americas continue to account for most cases worldwide.
For several weeks now, the region has had more cases than all other countries combined.
“We are especially worried about Central and South America, where many countries are witnessing accelerating epidemics”, said the WHO chief.
“We also see increasing numbers of cases in the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and Africa, although the numbers are much smaller.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to be on the decline in Europe. Tuesday saw the fewest cases reported in the region in more than two months.
Investigations will continue into the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19, Tedros further reported.
The drug, which is used to treat rheumatology conditions, was among four medicines being tested in a Solidarity Clinical Trial conducted by WHO and partners.
The Executive Group for the trial, representing 10 participating countries, put hydroxychloroquine on pause due to safety concerns. A monitoring committee has been reviewing related data.
“On the basis of the available mortality data, the members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol”, said Tedros.
“The Executive Group received this recommendation and endorsed the continuation of all arms of the Solidarity Trial, including hydroxychloroquine.”
The Solidarity Clinical Trial was announced on 18 March: one week after the pandemic was declared, and 60 days after China shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus.
So far, more than 3,500 patients in 35 countries have been recruited.
The other treatments under study are remdesivir, previously tested as an Ebola treatment; lopinavir/ritonavir, which is a licensed treatment for HIV; and interferon beta-1a, a medicine for multiple sclerosis.
Support builds for ‘a people’s vaccine’
Relatedly, the UN and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on Wednesday called for governments and the private sector to unite towards developing “a people’s vaccine” against COVID-19.
They stressed that “no one should be left behind” in the race to identify the most effective means to defeat the virus.
“A people’s vaccine should protect the affluent in cities and the poor in rural communities, the old in care homes and the young in refugee camps”, they said.
“A global social contract for a people’s vaccine against COVID-19 is a moral imperative that brings us all together in our shared humanity.”
The partners said unity and commitment towards this common goal should also spark global resolve to sustain immunization against preventable diseases.
As UN agencies have reported, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many countries to suspend or curtail routine childhood immunization programmes, putting some 80 million young lives at risk.