Congo minister's resignation over Ebola snub could unblock new vaccine

By Fiston Mahamba GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congo's health minister resigned on Monday after being stripped of responsibility for managing the country's Ebola outbreak, potentially paving the way for the introduction of a second vaccine to contain the spreading epidemic. Oly Ilunga has overseen Democratic Republic of Congo's near year-long response to what is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history

Reuters July 23, 2019 00:08:02 IST
Congo minister's resignation over Ebola snub could unblock new vaccine

Congo ministers resignation over Ebola snub could unblock new vaccine

By Fiston Mahamba

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - Congo's health minister resigned on Monday after being stripped of responsibility for managing the country's Ebola outbreak, potentially paving the way for the introduction of a second vaccine to contain the spreading epidemic.

Oly Ilunga has overseen Democratic Republic of Congo's near year-long response to what is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. It has killed more than 1,700 and been declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

President Felix Tshisekedi on Saturday appointed a team led by Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the head of Congo's biomedical research institute, to coordinate the government's response in Ilunga's place.

In his resignation letter, the minister criticised pressure by unnamed "actors" to deploy the second vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and backed by the WHO.

It has yet to be used on the ground due to Ilunga's objections. It is designed to complement a Merck treatment that has been given to 170,000 people and proved effective.

Ilunga has said the J&J vaccine has not been proved effective and that deploying a second one would confuse people in eastern Congo, where health workers are struggling to overcome widespread misinformation about the haemorrhagic fever as well as sporadic hostility.

Ilunga said it would be "fanciful to think that the new vaccine proposed by actors who have shown an obvious lack of ethics by voluntarily hiding important information from medical authorities, could have a significant impact on the control of the current outbreak".

J&J says the vaccine has been tested on more than 6,000 volunteers and raised no particular safety concerns.

Its chief scientific officer, Paul Stoffels, said in a telephone interview that the company had been "very transparent, very open and in full communication" with Congolese authorities.

He said J&J had discussed with Muyembe how people could be vaccinated around eastern Congo's biggest city, Goma, where a first Ebola case was confirmed last week, to create a protective "curtain".

"Whether they use it or not, it's fine for us," said Stoffels, referring to Congolese officials. "They have to judge based on their personal knowledge of how and where to use it."

The WHO and other international donors including medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres have publicly supported using the second vaccine, of which 1.5 million doses are available.

A WHO spokesman said the organisation was grateful for Ilunga's leadership and dedication and looked forward to "working closely with the new coordination team as we have with the previous one".

Last week, the organisation labelled the outbreak an international emergency, a rare designation aimed at galvanising global support as it threatens to gain a foothold in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

Only the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people has been deadlier.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba and Anna Pujol-Mazzini; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London and Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by John Stonestreet and Alison Williams)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.