WHO chief says Ebola outbreak in Congo is stabilising

Distributions of World Food Programme rations have begun in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s Ebola-hit Equateur Province as part of an effort to support those directly affected by the latest outbreak of the deadly virus and limit risky population movements.

The forested terrain is so rough that even four-wheel-drive vehicles can't reach the area, which has no electricity, WHO's emergency response chief Peter Salama told reporters in Geneva. The current outbreak is caused by the Zaire ebolavirus, one of five separate subtypes and the one with the highest mortality rate, ranging from 60% to 90%, according to WHO.

"What this is telling us is the response (the WHO's vaccination program) is having an impact in those two locations", said Salama. The newest confirmed case is in rural Iboko and is linked to a probable Ebola patient who died on 20 May, the ministry said. Exit screening measures have been put in place to prevent the worldwide spread of the virus, and World Health Organization said it is supporting efforts by nine neighbouring countries to scale up emergency response and preparedness.

Among the reported cases, 38 have been confirmed by laboratories so far. That has complicated efforts to track contacts of those infected. This is the DRC's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976 when the hemorrhagic fever was first identified.

Phase 1 of the vaccination campaign, a plan to protect urban centers and towns, has "gone well", said Salama.

Based on the IHR assessment and status of core capacities implementation in countries, the plan lays out WHO's recommendations to ensure that these countries are operationally ready to prevent the importation of cases, implement risk mitigation, detection and response measures for Ebola.

But the Congolese health ministry said on Wednesday that "no experimental treatment has yet been given to hospitalised patients".

Most recently, a team of Chinese experts will arrive in Kinshasa on Friday to join the worldwide effort, which includes nations from the European Union, Japan and the United States in assisting the Congolese health authorities, according to the Ministry of Health.

"We're cautiously optimistic but there's a lot of very tough work to do in phase two before we say that we're on the top of this outbreak and we've learned the hard way in the past never to underestimate Ebola", Mr Salama said.

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