Health International

UN Begins Ebola Vaccination in Congo

The World Health Organization stated that officials have begun vaccinating people in eastern Congo against Ebola, after it was confirmed last week that the disease killed a toddler.

The UN health agency said in a statement that people at high risk of catching the disease would receive first doses of the vaccine made by Merck.

WHO said about a thousand doses of the vaccine arrived in Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu province, and 200 doses were sent to Beni, a city near the area where the first case was identified last week.

The new Ebola outbreak that started on October 8 comes after a devastating epidemic that began in 2018 when the disease killed more than 2200 people in the conflict-ridden region – and when more than 80 Ebola responders working under WHO were found to have sexually abused people during the agency’s efforts to stop the disease.

On 5 June 2018 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF-supported social mobilizers address a group of children in central Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province. Since the start of the Ebola outbreak in the DRC, UNICEF and its partners have reached more than 300,000 people with lifesaving information about how to avoid contracting the deadline virus. Following the announcement by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 8 May 2018 of a new Ebola outbreak in Equateur Province, UNICEF has mobilised its teams to help contain the spread of the disease. The outbreak was declared in the Bikoro Health Zone, located more than 100 kilometers south of the provincial capital of Mbandaka. A UNICEF team with two doctors, a specialist in water, sanitation and hygiene as well as a specialist in community communication left today from Mbandaka to assess the extent of the epidemic and begin implementing the response, alongside the Government and the World Health Organization (WHO). This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the country since 1976. UNICEF supports the Government in its coordination of the response both from the country’s capital Kinshasa as well as in the affected area. UNICEF has been active in the Equateur Province for many years. Based on its experience in previous Ebola epidemics, UNICEF is focusing its response on communication activities in the communities to protect people from the disease and on water supply, hygiene and sanitation to prevent the spread of the disease. UNICEF has already sent a total of 45 kg of chlorine, five sprays, 50kg of soap and 28,000 water purification tablets to the area, as well as 600 posters and 6,000 leaflets to educate affected communities.

Among the 15 officials WHO dispatched to Congo this month was an expert in preventing sexual abuse and exploitation, the agency said.

“The expert will brief WHO employees and partners on how to prevent any inappropriate and abusive behaviour,” WHO said.

An investigation in May revealed senior WHO management was informed of multiple instances of sexual abuse but failed to act. The people accused included a doctor who offered women jobs on the vaccination team in exchange for sex.

The investigation also revealed that WHO managers signed off on a contract to pay off a woman allegedly impregnated by a WHO doctor, details that were confirmed in a report issued last month by a panel examining sexual abuse during the earlier Ebola response.

The panel found more than 80 officials working on WHO’s Ebola response sexually abused people in Congo and described fundamental structural and cultural problems in the agency.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had no knowledge of the sex abuse claims until they were published in the press, despite having visited Congo 14 times during the outbreak and taking personal responsibility for overseeing the response.

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