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A spokesperson for Democratic Republic of the Congo’s health ministry said on Monday, May 29 it has approved the use of a new vaccine to combat an Ebola outbreak that has killed four people, Reuters reported.

The rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine developed by Merck is not yet licensed, but in clinical trials published in December it was shown to be highly protective against Ebola. The World Health Organzation’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation Marie-Paule Kieny said at the time that the vaccine is likely to be more than 80% effective when deployed across an entire population.

“The non-objection was given. Now there’s a Medecins Sans Frontiers team that is arriving (in Congo) today to validate the protocol with the technical teams,” health ministry spokesperson Jonathan Simba said, adding that details of the vaccination campaign would be announced on Monday or Tuesday.

A vaccination effort would be hampered by the isolation of the remote northeastern Bas-Uele province, not least because the vaccine requires storage at -80 degrees Celsius.

“I think it could be beneficial in the outbreak itself and contributing to having a clearer picture of this vaccine so that it can be licensed and used more broadly. It’s a huge opportunity,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Africanews reported.

Case numbers lower

According to the latest information from the World Health Organisation, as of May 27, there were two laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola Virus Disease, four probable and 16 suspected cases, marking a significant reduction from the May 26 total of two confirmed cases, three probable and 47 suspected cases.

A total of 55 samples have been collected and 38 of these tested. 30 previously suspected cases were reclassified as ‘not a case’ following analysis. Six new suspected cases were reported, and one previously suspected case has been reclassified as probable.

A laboratory has been established in Buta which can test for Ebola and a range of other diseases, allowing diagnosis for patients who test negative for Ebola.

WHO said modelling suggests the risk of new cases is low, and decreases every day.

357 close contacts are being followed up for signs and symptoms of Ebola.

The first case was first described by WHO on May 13. On April 22, a 39-year-old man presented symptoms and was taken on a motorbike to a health facility. He died on arrival. Another man who took care of him developed similar symptoms. The driver of the bike died on April 26.

Entry screening

WHO said Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are screening people at airports and ports of entry.

Rwanda is also denying entry to people with fever travelling from Democratic Republic of the Congo, and WHO has asked Rwandan authorities for “public health rationale and scientific evidence for this measure.”

Ebola in DRC

This confirmed Ebola epidemic is the eighth in the DRC since 1976.

During the last outbreak which began on August 24, 2014, a total of 66 cases (38 confirmed and 28 probable) of the disease were reported. Forty-nine people died, including eight health workers, a fatality rate of 74.2 percent.

The last confirmed case was on October 4, 2014, and government declared the end of the epidemic on November 15 of that year.

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