JOHANNESBURG – Global health experts urge the Trump administration to reinstate the US government's specialists – "some of the world's most experienced" – back to the northeast of the Congo to enable the fight against the northeastern Congo to support second largest outbreak of Ebola in history.
The US experts have been incapacitated for weeks because they were evicted from the region for security reasons by the State Department. Comments were made in two leading medical journals this week calling on the US to change their minds and send them to where they are needed.
This Ebola outbreak is like no other. Some health professionals compare the region to a war zone. Dozens of armed rebel groups are active, and their deadly attacks are forcing those responsible to halt the crucial Ebola containment work for days. Many new cases have nothing to do with known infections, which is alarming evidence that there are still gaps in the detection of the disease.
Late Thursday, the World Health Organization only declared this outbreak to be the devastating West African that had killed more than 11,000 people by 2014. The Congolese Ministry of Health said the number of confirmed and probable Ebola cases has reached 426 and so that the outbreak of Uganda in 2000 has passed. So far, this outbreak has confirmed 198 confirmed and 47 probable deaths.
"It is in US national interest control outbreaks before they escalate into a crisis," a group of global health experts wrote in a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Another in the New England Journal of Medicine said, "Given the worsening of the outbreak, we believe it is important that these security concerns be addressed and that the CDC staff return to the field."
It's not clear how many centers Disease Control and Prevention's staff are now trying to fight the outbreak of the capital Congo, Kinshasa, which is almost 1,600 kilometers away.
A State Department official said that CDC experts – and those who collaborate with the US Agency for International Development, which is also affected by the order, continues to work closely with international partners to halt the outbreak to stop.
"We continue to hope that the security situation improves to return to the affected communities," said CDC spokeswoman Kathy Harben, said in a statement. The CDC supports the expertise of the State Department and the Department of Defense "in determining the locations where our employees can be safely positioned."
Security concerns are Ebola employees. Teams with the WHO and the Congolese Ministry of Health are conducting anti-virus missions that are accompanied by UN peacekeepers or other armed security forces in areas where shots occur daily.
Due to the complications, this Ebola outbreak will take at least six months before an outbreak can occur. Peter Salama, WHO Chief of Emergencies, has predicted.
Earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield suggests that one option is "to pursue the idea that this will become an endemic Ebola outbreak in this region." This is not a welcome thought for neighboring Uganda and Rwanda.
Despite the challenges, Ebola health workers have made breakthroughs that have given new hope in the fight against one of the world's best-known diseases. More than 37,000 people have received Ebola vaccines, and the Congo has begun the first study to test the efficacy and safety of four experimental Ebola drugs.
On Friday, The Associated Press spoke from the Outbreak Zone, the director of the Ebola Response Program. Stacey Mearns said that the absence of CDC experts is very much felt. Your colleague, Dr. med. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, the IRC's senior health director, was among the more than two dozen people who signed the statement released Thursday in JAMA.
"If the (US) ban was not met, the CDC would have a large and growing presence here," said Mearns, who worked closely with the CDC in West Africa's Ebola outbreak. The US sent thousands of responders from the CDC and other government agencies to West Africa.
The CDC's experts have rich experience in monitoring, treatment and lab testing, Mearns said, adding that some of this work is now being done remotely.
"We have not yet seen the climax of this eruption," she warned as Ebola moved to new areas in the Congo, which are worrying near the busy border with Uganda. "If we want to see the end, we need all the critical actors on the ground." / Muf
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