The Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed the first case of Ebola in Goma, one of the country’s biggest cities that shares a border with Rwanda and home to over a million people. The carrier, a sick pastor arrived Goma from Butembo, one of the main towns affected by Ebola, early Sunday morning by bus with 18 other passengers.
Once he was tested and confirmed positive for Ebola, all the other passengers were tracked down and isolated to receive vaccinations today. This news has undoubtedly raised concerns on the fear of the virus spreading quickly and making its way into Rwanda. But according to the health ministry, the risk of the disease spreading in the rest of the city is minimal because of the speed with which the patient and other passengers were identified and isolated.
The 46-year-old pastor is said to have been receiving care from a nurse at his accommodation in Butembo but left the city, and arrived at a health centre in Goma on Sunday showing symptoms of Ebola. The Guardian reports that he “did not show signs of illness at three medical checkpoints on the 18-hour journey, though he gave different names, indicating a desire to hide his identity.”
Responding to the news, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was “long anticipated” and that the organization had been “doing intensive work to prepare Goma so that any case is identified and responded to immediately,” adding that an Ebola Treatment Centre has been operational in Goma since February with 3,000 health workers already vaccinated.
Just last week, Rory Stewart, the UK’s international development secretary, called on the WHO to declare DRC’s Ebola outbreak of international concern. Stewart, who was on a two-day visit to the Congo to assess issues hindering efforts to permanently check the epidemic, was concerned about the disease’s potential spread to Goma.
He was of the opinion that if the epidemic reaches Goma, as it sadly has, it will be hard to contain. “Goma is really connected to the world. It has the Grand Barriere heading into Rwanda … If it gets into that kind of place, we have a problem. It is absolutely vital that we hold it here in Butembo and Beni,” he said.
So far, since August 2018, the virus has killed more than 1,650 people in the DRC. About 700 people have recovered from infections and over 160,000 people vaccinated. Meanwhile, today, the United Nations will hold a “high-level event” in Geneva to discuss preparedness and response to the Ebola epidemic.