Rwanda reopens border with Congo after international criticism

The Rwandan authorities were heavily criticised for shutting down movement to and from DRC after a third case ofthe deadly virus was detected in the Congolese frontier city of Goma. 

Rwanda has reopened its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after closing it for eight hours over fears of the spread of Ebola.

The Rwandan authorities were heavily criticised for shutting down movement to and from DRC after a third case ofthe deadly virus was detected in the Congolese frontier city of Goma. 

The Congolese presidency said its neighbour had taken a “unilateral decision” that affected citizens from both countries.  

“Traffic between Goma and [the neighbouring Rwandan city] of Gisenyi resumed on Thursday afternoon after being closed in the morning without explanation,” a statement from the Congolese presidency said.

“The border has been reopened and people can move in both directions,” the statement said.

The Rwandan authorities were heavily criticised for shutting down movement to and from DRC after a third case ofthe deadly virus was detected in the Congolese frontier city of Goma. 

The Ebola outbreak has been raging in DRC for exactly a year and last month was declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).

At the time of the declaration WHO director general  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged neighbouring countries not to close official border crossings to avoid damaging travel and trade with DRC.

“Now is the time for the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of DRC, not to impose punitive and counter-productive restrictions,” he said at the time.

The WHO is also concerned that closing the border could also force people to use the many informal crossings between the two countries, avoiding the disease checks on official points, and risking further spread of the deadly virus.

Goma, a city of two million people and a major transport hub, shares the border with the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of more than 85,000.

The emergence of the disease in Goma is a particular concern because experts fear the disease could spread out of control in this sprawling, densely-packed city. 

Two of the three cases in Goma have died, sparking a race to find people who have had contact with these patients.

The first case – a pastor – was identified two weeks ago and authorities said that they had successfully isolated all his contacts. The second case, a miner, was treated at home for five days before seeking help. Both these patients have died. The third patient is the miner’s one-year-old daughter.

Since the outbreak began exactly a year ago there have been 2,671 cases of the disease, including 1,790 deaths, making it the second worst Ebola outbreak in history and the worst which DRC has faced.

Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s executive director for health emergencies, said that the population in the affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri were highly mobile.

“Borders between provinces and between countries were drawn externally, not internally. People have links across borders and they’re moving all the time,” he told the Telegraph earlier this week. 

The UK has announced it is deploying more experts to the DRC in a bid to control the spread of Ebola in health facilities.

An infection prevention and control expert, a data scientist and an epidemiologist are being sent to the country by the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, set up by Public Health England and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and funded by UK aid to help countries struggling to control disease outbreaks.

This latest Ebola outbreak has been characterised by a high number of cases transmitted in health facilities – everything from hospitals to informal clinics set up in people’s homes – where infection control standards are poor.

Professor Dan Bausch, director of the rapid support team, said the team would help to train staff.

He said that the infections were occurring in both traditional and non-traditional health facilities, rather than in the official Ebola treatment centres.

“The risk is when the patient comes into a clinic or hospital and no one thinks they have Ebola. We hear this again and again. People say we didn’t use gloves because we thought the patient had malaria. But we should be avoiding all contact with blood and bodily fluid,” he said.

Prof Bausch added that trying to reach all the clinics was a huge task because many were set up in people’s homes and there is no official list. 

He added: “This is also a big business. Traditional healers and others make money out of this and not everyone is wild about the idea that health care settings may be places where Ebola is transmitted. They worry about the impact on their business.” 

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Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/rwanda-closes-border-congo-fears-spread-ebola/

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