Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 31 May 2020

Rwanda closes Congo border to stop spread of Ebola

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo condemned the 'unilateral decision'

Health authorities checks a baby's temperature at a health checkpoint in Goma, RD Congo. EPA
Health authorities checks a baby's temperature at a health checkpoint in Goma, RD Congo. EPA

Rwanda has shuttered its frontier with the Ebola-hit Democratic Republic of Congo after a third case of the deadly virus was detected in the border city of Goma, the Congolese presidency said Thursday.

The announcement coincided with the first anniversary of an epidemic that has claimed more than 1,800 lives, stoking dread that the disease may spread from eastern DRC to vulnerable neighbours.

In a statement, President Felix Tshisekedi's office condemned a "unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities" that affected citizens from both countries who had to cross the border as part of their daily life.

Goma, a city of 2 million people and a major transport hub, shares the border with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of more than 85,000.

Cross-frontier links are tight. Many people have jobs on the other side of the border while others have homes or put their children in schools in the neighbouring city.

"On the basis of a unilateral decision by the Rwandan authorities, Rwandan citizens cannot go to Goma and Congolese cannot leave Gisenyi but are prevented from going home," the statement said.

"This decision harms a number of Congolese and expatriates who live in Gisenyi but work in Goma."

It added: "The Congolese authorities regret this kind of decision, which goes against the recommendation of the World Health Organisation."

"Response teams are continuing to ensure that the city of Goma is out of danger," it promised.

Just hours earlier, the third case of Ebola was recorded in Goma, adding to two fatalities.

Congo’s health ministry said the 1-year-old daughter of the man who died of Ebola this week in the city of Goma now has the disease. This was the outbreak’s first direct transmission of Ebola inside Goma.

Health workers are racing to find people who have had contact with the infected patients.

In an urban setting, density of population, anonymity and high mobility make it far harder to isolate patients and trace contacts compared to the countryside.

In this Sunday, July 14, 2019 photo, workers bury the remains of Mussa Kathembo, an Islamic scholar who had prayed over those who were sick in Beni, Congo. Kathembo died of Ebola. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Workers bury the remains of Mussa Kathembo, an Islamic scholar who had prayed over those who were sick and died of Ebola in Beni, DRC. AP

Goma is capital of North Kivu province, which has borne the brunt of the year-old epidemic, followed by neighbouring Ituri province.

Bad news came on Wednesday from South Kivu province, which had previously skirted the epidemic.

Fifteen people were placed in quarantine in Birava, 30 kilometres south of the provincial capital Bukavu, the chief doctor at the local hospital, Ciza Nuru, said.

They included a mother and her six children who come from Goma, and whose family head "had fled an Ebola treatment centre", he said.

The first death in Goma, reported on July 16, was of an evangelical preacher who had travelled from Goma to Butembo, one of the towns hardest hit by the outbreak.

During his stay there, he preached at seven churches and regularly touched worshippers, including the sick, and then returned to Goma by bus, investigators said.

The day after his death was announced, the WHO declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern" – a move designed to step up the global response.

The step prompted a surge in funding pledges, including by the World Bank, which promised a further $300 million in addition to $100m already provided.

Ebola is named after a river in northern DRC, then named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976 by a Belgian-led scientific team.

Its virus causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding.

The disease is spread by contact with infected body fluids and is fought with time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.

Nurses and doctors have to wear full-protection biohazard suits and respect intensive disinfection measures.

There is no medical cure for Ebola, although an unlicensed but tested vaccine has been widely deployed to help protect frontline workers.

The latest epidemic is the second deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.

Updated: August 1, 2019 05:17 PM



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