In the ninth outbreak of Ebola since the 1970s, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has so far reported 39 suspected, probable or confirmed cases of Ebola from 4 April to 13 May, including 19 deaths, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) statement. Information about the outbreak in Bikoro, Iboko and Wangata health zones in Equateur province is still limited.

The WHO also indicated in the statement that an additional 393 people who came into contact with the suspected Ebola patients are being followed up. The outbreak has not yet met the criteria of being declared a “public health event of international concern” by the WHO, which would prompt the formation of an emergency committee.

The organisation says it has obtained 4 000 doses of Ebola vaccine and is preparing them for deployment to the affected areas. WHO’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, told Reuters, “We’re working on the deployment of these materials, especially readying the cold chain. The start date of the vaccinations will depend on this deployment.”

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The UN agency, in partnership with the DRC’s Ministry of Health and the international nongovernmental organisation Médecins Sans Frontières, is going to conduct ring vaccinations across the affected region.

In a press conference, Dr Ibrahima-Soce Fall, WHO regional emergency director for Africa, said, “This outbreak is very close to the Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. And we are taking it very seriously because it is close to Mbandaka, a city of 1 million people.”

The central African nation’s eastern Ebola River is what gave the deadly virus its name. This latest outbreak comes less than a year after the previous one, which killed eight people. After that last Ebola flare-up, authorities approved the use of a new experimental vaccine but it was not deployed as planned due to logistical challenges and the relatively minor nature of the outbreak.

The Ebola vaccine that the organisation had planned to deploy and is providing now is called rVSV-ZEBOV. The experimental vaccine was found to be 100% effective in a 2016 study after it was tested in Guinea following the 2014-15 outbreak.

To date, the largest and worst recorded outbreak of the disease was experienced in West Africa over a two-year period beginning in March 2014. The outbreak killed more than 11 300 people and infected about 28 600 as it cut through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.