Ebola outbreak latest: Thousands of aid workers vaccinated amid epidemic fears

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is taking the step to try to stop any potential spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where hundreds of people have died from the viral disease in recent months. The WHO added that South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda are “at very high risk” of seeing outbreaks imported from nearby eastern Congo provinces of Ituru and North Kivu. According to the WHO’s latest figures, 285 people have died since the outbreak of ebola in the DRC began in August. The WHO added that there have been no confirmed cases detected in South Sudan but the vaccination of aid workers is part of a series of measures imposed to prevent the spread with the country on “high alert.”

British aid is being used as part of the process to prepare the world’s newest country as the WHO confirmed support from the Department for International Development will be given to the Ministry of Health of South Sudan.

GAVI, an organisation which helps facilitate immunisations in developing countries, has been called in to help carry out the vaccinations which will begin next week in the country’s capital Juba.

According to the WHO, 2,160 doses of the vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV will be given to workers in South Sudan specifically to target Ebola virus-Zaire, the strain which has been confirmed in the DRC’s current outbreak.

The organisation added that the vaccine is still unlicensed but is the best recommended by experts.

In a statement, the WHO said: “With support from GAVI vaccine alliance, 2,160 doses of the Ebola vaccine (rVSV-ZEBOV) have been allocated to South Sudan and will be administered to protect against Ebola virus-Zaire, the strain that is confirmed in the current outbreak in DRC.

“Although this vaccine is not yet licensed, it is being used under the compassionate-use guidelines in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC as recommended by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE).

“Dr Antony Laku, the manager of the expanded program on immunisation (EPI) at the Ministry of Health, appreciated the technical and logistical support which has made this intervention possible.

“He appealed to the targeted health workforce to comply, consent and get vaccinated to protect themselves and mitigate the risk of possible EVD infection.”

The DRC is in the middle of the second largest outbreak of Ebola ever recorded after more than 11,000 people were killed by the disease in West Africa in 2014.

The UN has warned international efforts to contain the latest outbreak are being hampered by sectarian fighting in the DRC.

Government troops and rebel fighters are battling for control of the regions most affected by Ebola, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

It is feared many people will try to escape the fighting by trying to find safety in neighbouring countries, bringing the highly contagious virus with them.

Ebola can be transmitted between people through bodily fluids and surfaces it has come into contact with.

Aid workers fear the conflict could make a more serious outbreak inevitable.

Michelle Gayer, senior director of emergency health at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement last week that the “tragic milestone clearly demonstrates the complexity and severity of the outbreak”.

“The dynamics of conflict mean a protracted outbreak is likely, and the end is not in sight.”