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Fears for South Sudan after death from Ebola near the border

Fears Ebola will spread to South Sudan grow after 40-year-old mother dies of the killer virus close to the Congo’s border with the ‘vulnerable’ nation

  • A woman died in the Congo’s Ariwara, 43miles from the South Sudan border
  • South Sudan has been ‘high alert’ since the Congo declared an outbreak 
  • It’s the closest known case to the ‘vulnerable’ neighbouring country
  • They have a weak health system and are in the midst of a five-year civil war 

Fears Ebola will spread into South Sudan from the Congo have grown after officials revealed the killer virus has moved close to the border.

Health officials claim a mother died from the virus in Ariwara, 43miles (70km) from South Sudan and roughly 12miles (20km) from Uganda.  

The woman, reported to be 40 years old, caught Ebola in Beni, a major city at the hub of the outbreak ravaging the DRC. 

Congo’s Health Ministry claims she travelled 310miles (500km) to visit her sister in Ariwara, ignoring official advice not to move around.  

It’s the closest Ebola has got to South Sudan – considered the most vulnerable of all countries neighbouring the DRC, where almost 1,600 people have been killed.

Three people have already died from Ebola in Uganda, after they crossed the border from the DRC. However, the nation is far more prepared for the killer virus.

However, infectious disease experts fear South Sudan’s weak health system and ongoing civil war could hamper the country’s response. 

Officials have ramped up surveillance measures to avoid Ebola spreading over the porous borders, where there are many unofficial checking points.   

Fears Ebola will spread into South Sudan from the Congo are growing after officials reveal the killer virus has moved close to the border. A 40-year-old mother was killed by the virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ariwara, which sits just 43 miles (70km) from South Sudan

Surveillance measures have been ramped up in South Sudan to avoid Ebola spreading over the porous borders. Pictured, a health worker screening a man in South Sudan

Dr Pinyi Nyimol, director general of South Sudan’s Disease Control and Emergency Response Centre, said a team of reinforcements had been sent to South Sudan in the hopes of stopping the spread.

He said: ‘We are very worried because it is coming nearer, and people are on the move so contact (with Ebola) could cross to South Sudan.’

Ariwara is in DRC’s northeastern Ituri province, and is reportedly a place where people from DRC, South Sudan and Uganda meet to trade products for selling.  

Some 2,369 Ebola cases have been confirmed In the DRC since the outbreak began last August. A case was confirmed in Ariwara on July 1 by Congo’s Health Ministry.

The body said the woman was a mother of five children, who were confirmed to have Ebola in Beni. Two children died on June 18 and 22.

The mother was identified by health officials as having been exposed to Ebola and warned not to travel. But on June 26, she fled to Ariwara.

A health alert was issued and 177 family contacts were listed in Ariwara, 40 of which had already been vaccinated.  

Dr Sterghios Moschos, an associate professor at Northumbria University, said it’s a very bad sign that the outbreak has spread. 

Dr Moschos told MailOnline: ‘South Sudan healthcare is practically non-existent. 

‘In realistic terms, it basically means that, if Ebola crosses the border, there’s very little chance that the South Sudanese will know what hit them. 

‘South Sudan doesn’t have the basics, let alone the resources needed to tackle Ebola. 

‘We will need to step in in earnest, because need is not financially met even in the DRC right now.’ 

According to The World Health Organization Uganda, Ebola was confirmed on July 3 in Ariwara. Pictured, a health worker screening a traveller for Ebola at a South Sudan and Uganda border

South Sudan is very poor and years of ruinous civil war have left its health system in tatters. It is considered the most vulnerable of the countries neighbouring the DRC. Pictured a medical tent on a South Sudan and Uganda border where travellers are screened

The woman who died of Ebola was a mother of five children who were confirmed to have Ebola in Beni. Pictured, a Ebola treatment centre in Beni, DRC

Last week, MailOnline revealed the challenges South Sudan would face if Ebola were to eventually spread there.

Adrian Ouvry, a humanitarian advisor for the aid organisation Mercy Corps, said: ‘Sudan would struggle.

‘The other countries at risk include Rwanda and Burundi. But of all of them, South Sudan is by the far most vulnerable.’

In South Sudan’s Yeir River State, thousands of people have been displaced due to fighting between the National Salvation Front and government forces.

Since September, officials say almost 20,000 civilians have been driven into the DRC and Uganda, raising concerns of fluid movement over borders.

According to local reports, refugees often criss-cross between countries in search for food, water, or shelter amid South Sudan’s civil unrest. 

Roughly 12miles (20km) to the east of Ariwara is the border to Uganda, where Ebola was confirmed to have spread last month, killing three people. 

The government in Uganda was praised for managing to stop Ebola spiraling out of control when they declared there were no longer any cases.

On June 13, two days after Ebola was confirmed in Uganda, South Sudan launched a plan to prevent the disease spreading and prepare for a possible outbreak.

According to the UNs Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Sudan, a $28.5million plan to combat Ebola is only 50 per cent funded.  

With the money, officials plan to boost the surveillance system, scale up training for front-line health workers and increase the number of isolation units. 

The World Health Organization has assessed the risk of the disease spreading to South Sudan as being ‘very high’.

More than 2,000 cases and 1,400 deaths of Ebola have been recorded in the DRC since the outbreak was declared in August last year

WHAT IS MAKING THIS OUTBREAK DIFFICULT TO STOP? 

The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been continuing for six months.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, an expert on Ebola at Imperial College London, shared some of her thoughts on the situation with MailOnline.

Dr MacDermott said: ‘The current outbreak has posed significant challenges to medical teams on the ground. 

‘The region has suffered several decades of ongoing conflict and militia activity. This has affected the ability of responders to engage with communities to provide awareness and encourage them to see medical teams early for testing and treatment. 

‘There has also been significant risk to medical teams, some of whom have been attacked, and in some cases killed, by fearful community members and militia groups operating in the region. 

‘As such, and despite the use of an effective vaccine, the epidemic has continued to spread to different communities.

‘This was recently exacerbated by violence preventing responders accessing affected communities. This resulted from affected communities not being able to vote in national elections.’

Around 2,000 health workers in South Sudan have been vaccinated, Ebola taskforces meet weekly and lab staff have been trained in how to safely handle samples for testing in preparation for a potential spread.

More than two million people have been screened while entering the country and there is an Ebola treatment unit and laboratory in the capital, Juba.

However, many are able to escape screening because there are unofficial crossing points, used for markets, trading and to visit families. 

Only 57 per cent of the incoming travellers are screened, according to a report published on July 3 by OCHA. 

Crossing over borders without detection is how a family brought Ebola into Uganda from the Congo. 

The family had been at the burial of a relative in the DRC before they were stopped at a border while returning to Uganda, 

More than one of them were showing symptoms of Ebola – which include vomiting, a fever and diarrhoea. 

But the family escaped from authorities and crossed into Uganda through a market place at Mpondwe, a busy border post where many use dirt trails or footpaths.    

A day later, the family rushed to hospital in the Kasese district where it was confirmed three – two young boys and their grandmother – had been struck with the killer virus. The three all died over the next few days.

It drove the World Health Organization to hold an emergency meeting on June 14, in which they concluded that the risk of spread to countries outside the DRC ‘remains low’.

A declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) was rejected for the third time because WHO said it would ’cause too much economic harm’.   

Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids.

WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?

Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.

That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.

The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.

Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.

WHERE DID IT BEGIN? 

An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.

Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN? 

Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.

Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.

Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola. 

Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.

HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS? 

Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.

It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.

IS THERE A TREATMENT? 

The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.

Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal. 

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