The Democratic Republic of Congo was grappling with its ninth outbreak of Ebola. And health experts are scrambling to dispatch an experimental vaccine to fight the deadly virus in its earliest stages.While the vaccine has yet to be approved, health officials have rushed in 7500 doses,because the shots appeared promising during the devastating 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The vaccines are being dispensed in three of the country’s most heavily affected areas all of which are transport hubs. The strategy involves investigators working in rings around those who’ve been infected,immunizing high-risk people who’ve come into direct contact with infected persons and then with their contacts.
“Most of the positive cases that we have at least 50 percent are coming from the contacts.”Success of the vaccination strategy hinges on the speed at which health workers can identify people at risk. “If we identified a new case before the disease progresses, then we can treat the patient in the hospital.”Even if the vaccine works, the hurdles can be challenging. Special freezers are needed to transport the medication in the heat and through forested areas with few paved roads.Health workers have to identify and track down anyone who’s come into contact with a sick person.
And perhaps most challenging of all is persuading a frightened population that these shots can save lives.Many don’t believe Ebola even exists. “The community was not really convinced that this is a deadly disease. For them it’s a start of witchcraft and so on.”Health officials say that one is difficult to track down people in remote areas who are at risk and in need of vaccinations.They’re cautiously optimistic about the strategy in more populated areas. Passengers who arrive in boats have their temperature taken. And in populated areas along the Congo River, residents are given a phone number to report anyone who’s become sick. “Here we wait, as soon as it happens we’ll call since we were left numbers. They will come directly with drugs to spray in the boats.”
Health experts say the next two weeks will be critical in determining of the outbreak under control.In the meantime some recipients say at the very least the shot gives them peace of mind.
Julie Taboh VOA News