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DR Congo health minister resigns in Ebola row

The health minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo has resigned in protest at the handling of the Ebola outbreak in the east of the country.

Oly Ilunga a breach of ethics and interference in his resignation letter
Oly Ilunga a breach of ethics and interference in his resignation letter

In his resignation letter, Oly Ilunga condemned a decision by President Félix Tshisekedi to replace him as the head of the Ebola response team.

He also criticised what he described as outside pressure to roll out a new experimental Ebola vaccine.

The outbreak has killed more than 1,700 people over the past year.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak an international health emergency.

An Ebola epidemic devastated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016, and killed more than 11,000 people.

Why is Mr Ilunga resigning?

In his letter to Félix Tshisekedi, he criticised the decision to remove him as head of the Ebola response team, and replace him by a committee “under your direct supervision”.

He said members of that committee had interfered with his work in recent months.

He also condemned “strong pressure exercised in recent months” to use a new Ebola vaccine advocated by some aid agencies and donors.

He said the current vaccine was the only one with clinically proven effectiveness.

How bad is the situation in DR Congo?

The latest outbreak – the second-largest ever – started in August 2018 and is affecting two provinces in DR Congo, North Kivu and Ituri.

More than 2,500 people have been infected and two-thirds of them have died.

It took 224 days for the number of cases to reach 1,000, but just a further 71 days to reach 2,000.

About 12 new cases are being reported every day.

Is the vaccine working?

Yes. It is 97% effective and more than 161,000 people have been given it, according to the World Health Organization.

However, everybody is not vaccinated – only those who come into direct contact with an Ebola patient, and people who come into contact with them.

The response to the latest outbreak has been complicated by sporadic attacks on health workers, and conspiracy theories about the current vaccine.

It was developed during the epidemic in West Africa and has been available throughout the latest outbreak.

What is Ebola?

  • Ebola is a virus that initially causes sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat
  • It progresses to vomiting, diarrhoea and both internal and external bleeding
  • People are infected when they have direct contact through broken skin, or the mouth and nose, with the blood, vomit, faeces or bodily fluids of someone with Ebola
  • Patients tend to die from dehydration and multiple organ failure

BBC News