Ebola outbreak may open door to finding drugs that work

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In spite of reports of the reduction in new Ebola cases, the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said that measures aimed at minimising the risk of the spread of Ebola would remain in place until further notice.

Congo's health ministry late Thursday announced a new confirmed Ebola case, bringing the total to 38, including 13 deaths.

Msgr. Bomengola told CNS Ebola had "made everything more hard for the population", adding that there were fears the disease could spread down the Congo River from the trading hub of Mbandaka to Kinshasa, a city of 10 million.

Motorcycles are only now arriving and health workers are sleeping 15 to 20 people to a tent.

Archbishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, co-adjutor archbishop of Kinshasa who previously served in the Diocese of Mbandaka-Bikoro, where the outbreak occurred, made a decision to suspend administering sacraments to protect churchgoers from contracting the disease.

Phase one of the disease response was about protecting the urban centres and towns and that had gone well, Salama said, but phase two, tackling the remote forested areas, was an enormous logistical effort that would go on for weeks.

Mbandaka, in northwest DRC, has a population of around one million.

"There's been very strong progress in the outbreak response, particularly in relation to two of three sites", Salama said.

Beginning with the 1976 discovery of Ebola in an area that is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country has experienced nine outbreaks. This figure includes 673 people in Mbandaka, 398 in Bikoro, 725 in Iboko, and 30 in Ingende, also located in the Equateur province.

"We have added cause for optimism because now we have reached... more than 98 percent of the contacts with vaccination", Salama said.

While Ebola's spread to a major city has complicated efforts to track all contacts of those infected, the presence of the virus in Iboko poses another world of problems.

On the front lines of the outbreak, health officials use a tool called contact tracing to break the chain of transmission of the Ebola virus. No matter how long this Ebola outbreak continues, the world faces critical tests in its battle against deadly pathogens.

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

"We're cautiously optimistic but there's a lot of work", said Salama.

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