Response to Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Western Kasai, DRC

As of today, 7 January, a total of 42 patients have been reported with suspected Ebola haemorrhagic fever in the province of Western Kasai, central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 13 of these 42 patients have died. The epicentre of the epidemic is probably Kaluamba village, in the centre of the province.

More than 20 blood and stool samples were sent to laboratories in the Congolese capital Kinshasa and also to South Africa and Gabon. To date just ten results have returned, four of which were positive. However, none of the samples from the 13 deceased have yet returned positive results for Ebola. A reliable laboratory that is both closer and able to provide results within 24 hours would help differentiate Ebola patients from those suffering from other diseases.

The MSF team on the ground is concentrating on four main strategies to deal with the outbreak. Firstly they isolate and provide medical and psychological care to patients in an isolation centre in Kampungu village, close to Kaluamba. Currently one patient is still receiving care in the isolation centre and is recovering.

Secondly, the teams 'map' people who have had any potential contact with the disease. Currently, MSF follows up 200 'contact' people every day.

Thirdly, MSF educates the population about the disease and how to avoid transmission.

Finally, the team also provides free health care in the affected area and will continue to do so for as long as the outbreak continues. By doing this, MSF hopes to reduce the  financial barriers that stop people in the area accessing healthcare. They also hope it will help address peoples suspicions that health centres are where Ebola is contracted.

Ebola is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease. It is transmitted between people through contact with body fluids (blood, vomit, diarrhea). Thus, because of their proximity to the patients, both health staff and family members are at serious risk of contracting the disease. MSF also makes sure burial practices are carried out with the necessary protection measures.

An MSF team of 18 is currently working in Western Kasai. The team consists of doctors, nurses, water and sanitation specialists, health promoters, and logisticians. An epidemiologist and an additional specialist in water and sanitation are being sent this Tuesday morning from Brussels.