The situation in north-eastern Congo, where a major Ebola outbreak is in progress, is slowly getting worse. The vaccination of tens of thousands of people at risk is helping slow its spread, but the numbers don't look good.
In a bulletin on Thursday, the health ministry outlined the growth of the Ebola outbreak.
"Since the start of the epidemic, the total number of cases is 715, including 666 confirmed and 49 probable. In all, there have been 443 deaths" in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, the ministry said.
DR Congo, formerly Zaire, has seen 10 outbreaks of the highly contagious haemorrhagic disease since it was first identified in 1976 near the Ebola river in the northwest of the country.
The latest outbreak was declared on August 1 in the region of Beni, a major market town in North Kivu, and quickly spread to neighbouring Ituri province.
The ministry said 248 people have recovered from the Ebola virus, while "236 suspect cases" were under investigation -- down one from the previous bulletin on January 15.
There's more at the link.
If the number of confirmed cases is correct, the death rate is 66.5%, while if the probable cases are also included, it's 62%. The recovery rate is 37.2% or 34.7%, ditto. Basically, two out of three people who contract Ebola in the Congo are dying of it.
Nor are the total numbers reassuring. As I've written before, I know that area. I'll bet a year of my income to a day of yours that the actual totals are very significantly higher than the "official" figures. I won't be at all surprised to hear that there have actually been ten times that number of infections, most of them contracted by people in the bush who didn't report to medical facilities to ask for treatment. Part of that's the fear of anything "official" - the people there have learned to distrust the authorities. Part of it's the stigma of being diagnosed with Ebola, because you'll be ostracized by your family, friends and tribe - sometimes forever - for being a carrier. Part of it's sheer physical weakness, because many won't try to get help at the first sign of infection, but will try to carry on as long as they can. By the time they realize the problem's more serious than just a cold or the flu, it may be too late for them to seek help, because they may be too weak to reach a place where it's available. Finally, if someone dies of Ebola in the bush, they won't be recorded as an "official" victim. Those who knew them will flee, fearful of catching the disease, and even more fearful of being forcibly quarantined while they wait to find out whether they're infected, too. It's a no-win situation for all concerned.
I continue to believe that the Ebola outbreak in Congo is far from contained. Heroic measures from medical teams may have slowed its progress, but it's still spreading. If the vaccine (which is in limited supply) runs out, or if enough people carrying the virus flee to other centers where it can spread unchecked . . . we'll have a nightmare on our hands. I'm not exaggerating. This is a very serious outbreak, and it's poised on a knife-edge right now. Let's hope the medical teams in the area can prevent it sliding off on the wrong side.