Congo approves more experimental Ebola treatments in race to contain growing outbreak

PHOTO: A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a boy who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug.18, 2018.PlayOlivia Acland/Reuters
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The Democratic Republic of the Congo has approved four more experimental treatments for the deadly Ebola virus, in an effort to contain a growing outbreak in its restive eastern region that has already killed dozens.

The country's health ministry announced late Tuesday that the ethics committee had authorized the use of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug made by Gilead Sciences in Israel; ZMapp, a monoclonal antibody treatment developed by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical; Favipiravir, an antiviral drug produced by Toyama Chemical of Japan; and another experimental therapeutic drug referred to as Regn3450 - 3471 - 3479.

Remdesivir was administered to the first patient at an Ebola treatment center in the northeast city of Beni on Tuesday, and that individual is "doing well," the health ministry said.

The green-lit experimental treatments are in addition to the use of a drug called mAb114, developed by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Congolese health authorities began administering to Ebola patients last week. The 10 patients who have received mAb114 since Aug. 11 are experiencing "positive evolution," the health ministry said.

PHOTO: Congolese health workers prepare to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.Olivia Acland/Reuters
Congolese health workers prepare to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.

The current Ebola outbreak in the country's east was announced Aug. 1, just days after another outbreak that killed 33 people -- including 17 who had confirmed cases -- in the country's west was declared over.

As of Wednesday night, a total of 103 people had reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. That includes 76 cases that tested positive for Ebola virus disease and 27 probable cases of Ebola, according to the health ministry.

There have been 61 deaths among these cases, including 34 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola, the health ministry said. Health care workers have been among those infected.

The DRC is in the midst of its 10th Ebola outbreak since 1976, the year that scientists first identified the deadly virus.

PHOTO: Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.Olivia Acland/Reuters
Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.

Ebola virus disease, a type of viral hemorrhagic fever, spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and as the disease worsens, it can cause vomiting diarrhea, rash and bruising or bleeding without an injury. It is often fatal, and there is no cure for the virus.

However, an experimental vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Merck has been administered to 2,179 people in the DRC since Aug. 8, in response to the latest outbreak, according to the country’s health ministry. The vaccine, which is referred to as both rVSV-ZEBOV and V920, have proved effective against the previous outbreak in the western province of Equateur.

PHOTO: Congolese health workers clean gumboots as they prepare the Ebola treatment centre in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.Olivia Acland/Reuters
Congolese health workers clean gumboots as they prepare the Ebola treatment centre in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018.

North Kivu and Ituri, where the latest Ebola outbreak cases have been reported, are among the most populous provinces in the DRC, and they share borders with Uganda and Rwanda. Those provinces are awash with conflict and insecurity, particularly in the mineral-rich borderlands where militia activity has surged in the past year, all of which complicates the response to the outbreak.

Health workers are restricted by the government from entering some of the violence-torn areas.

An estimated 4.5 million people are displaced within the DRC, including over one million in North Kivu alone, according to the latest data from the United Nations. The vast majority of cases in the current Ebola outbreak have been reported in North Kivu, though some parts of the province are inaccessible.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said last week that the country's humanitarian situation "has deteriorated sharply in recent months" and more Ebola cases are expected.

"It is not clear whether all the transmission chains have been identified, mainly because some of the zones being off limits to responders due to security concerns in the DRC," Dujarric told reporters in New York City on Aug. 17.

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