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Congo declares new Ebola outbreak

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Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 20, 2018. Reuters

GOMA (Reuters) – Four people have tested positive for Ebola in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo just days after another outbreak that killed 33 people in the northwest was declared over.

Twenty people have already died from hemorrhagic fevers in and around Mangina, a densely populated town about 30 kilometers southwest of the city of Beni and 100 km from the Ugandan border, the ministry said in its statement, without saying when the deaths occurred.

A team of 12 experts from Congo’s health ministry arrived in Beni yesterday to set up a mobile lab, the ministry said.

The World Health Organisation has started moving staff and supplies to the area, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

They headed to a region where deep security problems could complicate efforts to contain the virus. About 1,000 civilians have been killed by armed groups and government soldiers around Beni since 2014, and the wider region of North Kivu holds over 1 million displaced people.

“This is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population,” Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General of emergency preparedness and response, said in a statement.

Jeremy Konyndyk, an aid expert at the Center for Global Development, said other recent Ebola outbreaks had fortunately been in relatively safe and stable areas.

“North Kivu is a different story, which makes me a little nervous,” he said.

The area also has strong trade with neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, raising the risk of the virus moving internationally.

Julie Hall, chief of staff at the International Federation of the Red Cross, said the Ebola response in North Kivu would be a “highly complex” operation.

The ministry said no evidence linked this outbreak with the last one, which began in April and occurred over 2,500 km away in northwestern Congo.

This is the central African country’s 10th outbreak since 1976, when the virus was discovered near the eponymous Ebola river in the north. That is more than twice as many as any other country.

Congolese and international health officials were credited with responding rapidly to the last outbreak, including by deploying an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck, one of several vaccines being developed against Ebola.

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