Global Health
2:06 pm
Mon August 25, 2014

A New Strain Of Ebola Emerges In Democratic Republic Of Congo

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 5:53 pm

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Another country is reporting deaths from the Ebola virus. The government in the Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed that two people there have died and many more are infected. The outbreak appears unrelated to the epidemic now sweeping through West Africa. NPR's Nurith Aizenman is in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. And she joins us now with the latest. And first, Nurith, what's known about what's happening in Congo?

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Well, as you said, Robert, there are these confirmed death. And Congolese officials say they suspect more have died and there are many more infected with Ebola. This is in a remote northwestern region of that country. They sent out samples and two have come back positive for Ebola. But it's important to stress that the strain of Ebola identified in Congo is not the same one that's causing the epidemic in West Africa. It doesn't appear that it was brought in from West Africa. It's a different strain that seems to have popped up in Congo of its own accord. And while that may sound alarming, it is useful to understand that that is the region where Ebola first originated in the 1970s. The virus has emerged there six more times since and unlike West Africa, we're not talking about an area where people are constantly streaming in and out. Congolese officials also have experience dealing with Ebola. And each time it's reared its head there, they have managed to quash it before it could get out of the area. So there is reason to hope that this Congo outbreak can be contained more quickly and more easily than the one in West Africa.

SIEGEL: Well, turning to West Africa, there have been some high-level visitors to the region in the last couple of days - officials of the United Nations, also the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What seems to be coming off these visits?

AIZENMAN: Yes. There's certainly signs of a ramp-up in the international response. Today, the U.N.'s recently appointed coordinator for Ebola and a top official of the World Health Organization were in Sierra Leone, another country affected by the outbreak. And just a few days ago they were in Monrovia, Liberia, where I am. And also here Monrovia right now is Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC. He's here through Wednesday. I spoke with him just now and he said he's come because he wants to see firsthand what the needs are, what the U.S. and other countries can be providing. And WHO officials are already promising to add 500 beds to care centers for people with Ebola in Liberia over the next six weeks. And that's because right now the number of available beds for Ebola patients is totally outstripped by the demand. And those care centers are absolutely key, partly because if somebody can get supportive care, their chances of surviving are much higher, but just as importantly because until people see that there's somewhere they can go if they're sick, it's going to be hard to convince them to come forward and remove themselves from their homes and communities, which is what really it's going to take to reduce the chance that they'll infect others.

SIEGEL: Now, there is word today that a Liberian doctor who was infected and who was given the experimental treatment serum ZMapp has died. Is that right?

AIZENMAN: Yes. And on top of that, a British doctor working in a government-run Ebola care center in Sierra Leone has tested positive. He's been evacuated to the U.K. And then another health worker from Senegal who was working at a different facility in Sierra Leone now has Ebola. He was employed by the World Health Organization. They're working on getting him to another country for care.

SIEGEL: Now, Nurith, last week, you described for us the riot that you witnessed in Monrovia's West Point neighborhood after the government imposed a quarantine there. I understand the quarantine is still in place. Are residents of West Point still upset about it?

AIZENMAN: Yes, but things are calmer. The government has started to make deliveries of food and water and other supplies, though certainly not on the scale required to feed the tens of thousands of people who live there. Earlier today, Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, visited West Point for just half an hour, that's the neighborhood. She walked through the main street. She spoke to several people. Her staff handed out packets of cash to them. She also stopped to speak with a mother of a teenage boy who was shot by security forces during the riot. He died shortly thereafter. And we called this mother later today and she said that President Sirleaf had told her that she was sorry for what happened and the mother said she felt the shooting was unintentional and that she appreciated the president coming to her. She said I felt proud, a poor woman like me for the president to talk to me.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Nurith Aizenman speaking to us from Monrovia, Liberia. Nurith, thank you.

AIZENMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.