DAKAR, May 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Ebola
outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to the
neighbouring Central African Republic, where militia violence
has forced thousands of people to flee across the border, the
World Health Organization said on Thursday.
Two cases of the virus have been confirmed by the WHO in
Congo's remote northeastern Bas-Uele province since early May.
Four people have died so far among the 43 suspected and
The affected area's isolation - it is about 1,400 kilometres
(870 miles) from the capital Kinshasa - has helped contain the
spread of the highly contagious hemorrhagic fever, experts say.
Yet recent attacks by Christian militias in Central African
Republic's border town of Bangassou have driven about 2,750
people into Bas-Uele, raising the risk that the Ebola outbreak
could spread across the border, a WHO representative said.
"There is a big concern about Ebola spreading to Central
African Republic after this displacement," said Michel Yao, the
WHO's representative in the Central African Republic.
"We are worried as the refugees are close to the epicentre
of the outbreak," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding
they could become infected and carry the virus back home.
While this latest Ebola outbreak is Congo's eighth - the
most of any country - the Central African Republic lacks
experience in dealing with such an epidemic, and its health
system is weak after four years of conflict, Yao said.
More than two thirds of its health facilities have been
damaged or destroyed by the violence since 2013, when mainly
Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals by
Christian "anti-balaka" militias, according to aid agencies.
The Central African Republic set up an Ebola treatment
centre and rapid response team following the West Africa
epidemic, which killed more than 11,300 people between 2014 and
2016, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the WHO said.
"But there is very limited capacity outside of Bangui (the
capital) and it is difficult to travel around the country due to
the insecurity," Yao said. "We are concerned about how easily
Ebola may spread if it arrives in the Central African Republic."
Health authorities in Congo are monitoring about 365 people
who came into contact with sufferers and have dispatched mobile
laboratories to the area to speed up testing of people who
display symptoms, the WHO said in its latest situation report.
Asked about the potential for using an experimental vaccine,
the WHO last week said the logistics were "complex" but that it
was working with Congo's government and regulatory authorities.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Astrid Zweynert
@azweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)