‘On a knife edge’: Ebola outbreak threatens to escalate as violence rises…”A disaster is unfolding.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2019
By Paul Martin

MAY 7, 2019

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is threatening to spiral out of control, with ongoing violence aimed at the Ebola response workers undermining efforts to stop spread of the deadly virus.

STAT spoke to a number of experts involved with or closely monitoring the situation to try to get a sense of where the outbreak in northeastern DCR is heading.

Each one agreed: A disaster is unfolding.

“The numbers in the last month have been horrifying,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major funder of the Ebola response. “It’s on a knife edge. I’m not sure how else to describe it, really.”

The World Health Organization is doing scenario mapping trying to figure out just how bad this outbreak might become. But Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the emergencies program, won’t share what they see as they look at their models. “That’s for planning purposes, not for speculation,” Ryan insisted in an interview with STAT on Monday.

The statistics are grim: Double-digit daily increases in the case count are now the norm. Most new cases are people who never hit the radar of the teams searching for those who have been exposed to the virus, so they were never offered the experimental Ebola vaccine being used to try to contain the outbreak. Treatment centers are under armed guard, protecting health workers but discouraging people with Ebola from seeking their care, people familiar with the situation say.

Ebola treatment centers and roadside checkpoints have been torched; response workers have been beaten. On April 19, Dr. Richard Mouzoko, an epidemiologist from Cameroon working for the World Health Organization, was murdered when gunmen burst into a meeting he was leading.

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