DR Congo Health Minister Quits in Row Over Ebola Handling

With the Democratic Republic of Congo currently battling with another in a series of Ebola outbreaks over the years, the country’s health minister has handed in his resignation letter, citing government interference in the handling of the public health emergency.Congo-health-minister-Oly-Ilunga-Kalenga

The resignation of Oly Illunga came after DRC’s president Felix Tshisekedi practically stripped him of the responsibility of managing response to the very deadly Ebola outbreak currently wreaking havoc east of the country.

In a resignation letter written in French and posted on his Twitter page, Illunga lashed out at the decision to replace him as head of the response team against Ebola.

He wrote in a tweet, as translated by Al Jazeera: “Following the decision of the president to manage the Ebola epidemic himself, I have handed in my resignation as minister of health on Monday.”

Illunga stated that it was risky to have decisions on the deadly outbreak being made by different centers of authority.

An announcement from the office of Tshisekedi had made it known days earlier that a multi-disciplinary team would now oversee Ebola response activities. This would report only to the president.

Critical Emergency

The current outbreak of Ebola in the DRC is reportedly the 10th the country has witnessed. It is the second deadliest to date and affects mainly two provinces: North Kivu and Ituri.

Ebola is a kind of virus that produces symptoms such as fever, sore throat and weakness at the initial stage. It then moves on to produce more worrisome symptoms such as internal and external bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea. The highly infectious pathogen can kill as a result of dehydration and multiple organ failure that it can cause.

The current outbreak began in August 2018, according to the BBC. Over 2,500 individuals have been infected since then.

The present rate of infection is rather scary. In the first 224 days of the outbreak, about 1,000 cases were reported. But it took only 71 days after that to hit the 2,000-mark. Roughly 12 new cases are currently being reported daily.

Around 2 in every 3 infected persons ended up dying. More than 1,700 Ebola-related deaths have been reported since last year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently proclaimed the epidemic an international health emergency.

Vaccine Issues

Apart from meddling by government, Illunga suggested that his resignation was also influenced by matters pertaining to vaccine. He condemned pressure to use a new experimental Ebola vaccine made by the American pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson.

The health minister said the second vaccine was proposed by “actors” who fail to provide key information to medical officials.

The current vaccine by another American company, Merck, is around 97.5 percent effective, according to the WHO. Health workers have used it to vaccinate more than 161,000 people. It is thought capable of offering protection for up to a year.

The WHO and some other health-related bodies, including the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), have called for the deployment of the second experimental vaccine.

Illunga thought the new vaccine is not effective and would only serve to confuse people further.

Another major impediment to vaccination of more people is attacks on health workers. A study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases earlier this year suggested that most people were unwilling to take Ebola vaccine. They thought the virus was made up to provide financial gain to business owners or to destabilize the local population.

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