Congo health minister resigns over response to Ebola crisis

Congo health minister resigns over response to Ebola crisis
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The top health official overseeing efforts to combat an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo resigned Tuesday after the country's president took control of the response.
 
Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said he would quit after President Felix Tshisekedi set up a new government office to oversee the response to an outbreak that has raged for nearly a year in two remote provinces along Congo’s eastern border with Uganda.
 
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Kalenga said the new Multisectoral Ebola Response Committee would interfere with the ongoing activities of national and international health workers on the ground in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. He said Tshisekedi had approved the new board without his knowledge while Kalenga was traveling to the  effected provinces last week.
 
Kalenga also implied he had been under pressure to approve a new vaccine in addition to one that has already been used to protect more than 171,000 people. Those pushing the new vaccine, Kalenga said, are “actors who have demonstrated a manifest lack of ethics by voluntarily hiding important information from health authorities.”
 
“As in any war, because that is what it is about in this struggle, the lines of command must be clearly identified and defined. There cannot be more than one decisionmaking center at the risk of creating confusion and cacophony that is detrimental to the response,” Kalenga wrote in his resignation letter.
 
The outbreak has shifted course over the past year, hitting different cities and rural regions in two provinces where more than a million civilians are displaced and where ethnic violence has hindered health care workers.
 
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 2,612 cases through Tuesday, the second-largest outbreak of the Ebola virus in modern history. At least 1,746 people have died, a mortality rate of 67 percent, even though the vaccine produced by Merck has proven effective.
 
Many of the new deaths are outside Ebola treatment centers, an indication that the virus is spreading through chains of transmission that have not been detected by health care workers. Senior U.S. officials observing the outbreak say as many as half of all cases are occurring through those unidentified chains of transmission.
 
The WHO earlier this month declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, a rare step meant to highlight the urgency of the moment that has been used only four times before. WHO officials say they have not received contributions from international partners sufficient to cover the costs associated with the outbreak, which have already reached close to $250 million.
 
On Wednesday, the World Bank said it would release $300 million from a special fund set aside for crises like viral outbreaks to help cover the cost of the response.
 
“The communities and health workers on the front line of this outbreak urgently need more support and resources from the international community to prevent this crisis from worsening inside the country and from spreading across borders,” World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.