The Ebola outbreak in Congo has killed more than 500 people (Image: Getty Images)
The virus, which is often fatal, has spiralled out of control because of the security situation in the central African nation, where armed rebels make containing the disease difficult. A health ministry bulletin published late on Friday said: “In total, there have been 502 deaths, while 271 people have been cured.” Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga later told AFP that a pioneering Ebola vaccine had protected 76,425 people and therefore prevented “thousands” of deaths.
“I believe we have prevented the spread of the epidemic in the big cities,” he said, adding that health teams had thus far “managed to contain the spread of the epidemic to neighbouring countries.”
“The biggest problem is the high mobility of the population,” he said.
Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids and causes haemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.
The current outbreak, the country’s worst and the second-biggest ever recorded, started last August in the North Kivu region, which borders Uganda and Rwanda.
The Spanish branch of the aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Saturday that there had been a surge in cases since January 15.
“Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan, further north, are all on alert,” MSF said on Twitter.
On Sunday, the charity Save the Children said that at least 97 children had died in the current outbreak, 65 of whom were under the age of five.
Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s country director in DR Congo, said: “We are at a crossroads. If we don’t take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.”
A Red Cross staff counts the number of people at an Ebola screening point (Image: Getty Images)
The call to attention comes as Ebola has spread to 18 separate health zones in DR Congo.
The region where the virus has struck hardest this time is an active conflict zone, where frequent fighting