Health charity Wellcome pledges funds, calls for rapid response to Ebola in Congo

(Reuters) - Britain’s Wellcome Trust global health charity called for a rapid response to an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and has pledged 2 million pounds ($2.7 mln)to support Kinshasa’s efforts to fight it.

At least 17 people have died since inhabitants of a village in the DRC’s northwest began showing symptoms resembling Ebola in December, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Wellcome funding will be made available to the DRC government and the WHO as they seek to contain the outbreak’s spread. It will be boosted by another million pounds ($1.35 million) from the UK government, Wellcome said in a statement.

This is the ninth time Ebola has been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the deadly hemorrhagic fever was first detected in the country’s dense tropical forests in 1976. It was named after the nearby river Ebola.

“It’s vital the global response to this outbreak is swift. We know from previous outbreaks that the DRC are ready to act, but they need global support to ensure this outbreak is contained effectively,” said Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome’s director and a specialists in infectious diseases.

Congo’s long experience of Ebola and its remote geography mean outbreaks are often localised and relatively easy to isolate and contain.

But the villages at the heart of this outbreak are close to the banks of the Congo River, a major artery for trade and transport upstream from the capital Kinshasa. The Congo Republic is just on the other side of the river.

In December 2016, trials of an Ebola vaccine found that the shot gave high levels of protection against a strain of the deadly disease. The vaccine, known as rVSV-ZEBOV and developed by Merck, has been stockpiled, ready for use, by the vaccines alliance GAVI.

Officials at the WHO have not yet said whether they expect to use the vaccine in this outbreak. The logistics of transporting and deploying it in remote areas are complex, since it has to be kept at very low temperatures.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Catherine Evans