The Ebola outbreak in the DR Congo has recorded its first case in a major city

The vaccines have arrived.
The vaccines have arrived.
Image: Reuters/Kenny Katombe
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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s efforts to head off an Ebola epidemic is running into obstacles, with the announcement of the first registered urban case.

Health officials have confirmed a case in the northwest city of Mbandaka, a busy river port located at the intersection of the Congo and Ruki rivers and with trade routes to the capital Kinshasa. The spread of the deadly virus from the countryside and into a city that is home to about a million people pushes the current outbreak into a “new phase,” essentially making the efforts to contain the outbreak far harder.

Authorities said they were tracing all air, river, and road routes in and out of the city to find the source of the virus. Two brothers in Mbandaka who recently visited the outbreak’s starting point in Bikoro town are probable cases, with samples awaiting laboratory confirmation. So far, 23 people are known to have died while 42 others have been infected since the outbreak started earlier this month.

The announcement came just as thousands of doses of the experimental Ebola vaccine arrived in the country, with vaccinations expected to commence this coming weekend. Sent by the World Health Organization, the vaccine is still not licensed but proved effective in the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. WHO says it will use the “ring vaccination” method by administering the treatment to voluntary contacts, and contacts of those contacts, besides health workers. The health body also sent 300 body bags for safe burials in affected communities.

The swift response to quickly tackle the outbreak is in contrast to the response to the 2014 outbreak, when international agencies and governments were criticized for their slow response. More than 11,300 people were confirmed dead between March 2014 and Jan. 2016 in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US, and Mali.

In the DR Congo, a quick response is also crucial given the recurring nature of the virus in the nation: since 1976, there have been nine major outbreaks of the deadly virus in the central African nation.