Congo Health Minister Resigns Over Government Interference in Ebola Crisis Response
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Health Minister Oly Ilunga resigned Monday after President Felix Tshisekedi's office announced that it was taking control of the Ebola outbreak response.
The current Ebola outbreak was declared almost one year ago, and has resulted in nearly 1,700 confirmed deaths, with more than 2,500 infections.
Minister Ilunga had been charged with managing the response to the outbreak, but the president’s office said Saturday that it is handing over control to a multi-disciplinary team that will report to Tshisekedi, Reuters reported.
Ilunga called the move an "interference in the management of the response" in his resignation letter, and added his disapproval over the idea of administering a second Ebola vaccine.
"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," he said in his letter, according to Reuters.
The current experimental Ebola vaccine that is being deployed has proven to be successful in combatting the virus, while the other vaccine that is being pushed has not been proven to be effective, Ilunga says. He also said that deploying a second vaccine would confuse people, and that he did not wish to pursue the course of action.
However, Johnson & Johnson, which manufactures the second vaccine, has advised that the vaccine is safe and the World Health Organization and other health initiatives like Médecins Sans Frontières have supported the use of the second vaccine.
The current outbreak has been especially difficult to tackle due to conflict in one of the infected area that has made it hard for health workers to reach affected populations and has displaced people forcing them to move and potentially spread the virus further. Ebola is a highly infectious virus, so containing it remains key to limiting an outbreak’s reach.
The current vaccine, manufactured by Merck, has been administered to about 170,000 people, and has helped contain the virus. This outbreak, which has become the second-deadliest in history, next to the devastating 2014-2016 West Africa outbreak that primarily affected Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, killing more than 11,000 people.
Last week, the WHO declared the current outbreak a global health emergency.
“It is time for the world to take notice and redouble our efforts. We need to work together in solidarity with the DRC to end this outbreak and build a better health system,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“Extraordinary work has been done for almost a year under the most difficult circumstances. We all owe it to these responders — coming from not just WHO but also government, partners and communities — to shoulder more of the burden.”