Nearly 100 children have died in a Ebola epidemic ravaging the Democratic Republic of Congo as health workers warn it, it could be far from over. According to a Save the Children press release, 65 of the 97 children who died since August were under the age of five. In addition, more than 180 have been orphaned by the disease.
"We are at a crossroads," said Heather Kerr, country director of Save the Children in the DRC. in a press release. "If we do not take urgent measures to contain this, the outbreak could last another six months or even the entire year."
The epidemic is the second largest in history, with at least 731 confirmed cases of Ebola confirmed in the last six months and 484 deaths. The country experienced its worst epidemic between 2014 and 2016, which claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people and prompted more preventive efforts and the development of an experimental vaccine. However, the lack of knowledge about Ebola continues to hinder relief efforts.
"People still do not know what the disease is," said Dr. Brian D'Cruz of Doctors Without Borders at The Associated Press.
More than 70,000 people have received an experimental Ebola vaccine, but it remains to be seen how effective it is. According to the Associated Press, some patients who have received doses have contracted the virus, which is spread by contact with the body fluids of an infected person. Merck, the pharmaceutical company behind the vaccine, said it is ready to ship another 120,000 doses to Congo by the end of the month.
But the low availability of immunization is not the only obstacle that health workers face in trying to contain the epidemic. Kerr said that aid workers are threatened by rebels and locals who do not believe the virus is real or who believe that it is being spread by aid workers themselves.
"People disrupted the funeral because they did not believe that the deceased had succumbed to the virus," she said in a press release. "Humanitarian workers were threatened because it was believed that they were spreading the Ebola virus. We must redouble our efforts to reach out to youth and community leaders who are vocal to build trust and help us turn the tide. Treating sick people is essential, but it is equally important to prevent Ebola from spreading further. "
According to the Associated Press, the epidemic, which mainly affects the eastern region, is close to Goma, a major border town with more than one million inhabitants. The United Nations said earlier this month that a coordinated relief effort had already been sent to the region, including the vaccination of nearly 2,000 front-line workers.