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Congo Ebola deaths surpass 1,000 as attacks on treatment centers go on

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By REUTERS
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The death toll from an Ebola outbreak in Congo rose above 1,000 on Friday, with attacks on treatment centers continuing to hamper efforts to control the “intense transmission” of the second-worst epidemic of the virus on record.

The World Health Organization said it expected the nine-month outbreak to continue spreading though the east of Democratic Republic of Congo, and announced plans to expand vaccinations in the coming weeks once a new treatment by Johnson & Johnson is approved.

The WHO is already using another experimental vaccine made by Merck.

Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said supplies were plentiful but hostility towards medical staff was making it hard to get to affected communities.

He told reporters in Geneva that 119 attacks had been documented since January, and as a result, “we are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission”.

More than 100,000 people have been vaccinated so far, and the treatment has been highly effective, the WHO says.

The Merck vaccine will still be used in “ring vaccination” of people exposed to the virus and their contacts, Ryan said, but the WHO is also studying use of a single dose to stretch supplies, an option experts would review on Monday.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be deployed outside the rings in surrounding areas to protect people from infection, “as a way of laying down a barrier to the virus”, Ryan said.

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Congo’s Health Ministry said on Friday that 14 new Ebola deaths had been recorded, taking the toll to 1,008 deaths from confirmed and probable cases.

Only the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa has been deadlier. More than 11,000 people died then out of 28,000 who were infected.

Despite significant medical advances since then, including the vaccine and experimental treatments, health officials have struggled to control the current outbreak because of the violence and community mistrust in eastern Congo, where dozens of militias are active.

Militiamen attacked a hospital treating Ebola patients two weeks ago, killing a senior WHO epidemiologist and wounding two others.

“The numbers are nothing short of terrifying,” said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the global health charity the Wellcome Trust.

“This epidemic will not be brought under control without a really significant shift in the response,” he said. “Community trust and safety, as well as community engagement and ownership of the response is critical.”

There was an attempted assault on an Ebola treatment facility in the city of Butembo on Thursday, but nobody was injured and the assailants were captured, the WHO’s Ryan said.

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Kenya: Impunity – How Aids Board Used Shortcuts to Hire CEO

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The National Aids Control Council (NACC) hired a chief executive officer without the knowledge of its Human Resource Directorate, the Nation has established.

In a scandal that reeks of impunity in government circles, the Legal Department was not even aware of who drafted the advertisement calling for applicants, which was placed in the dailies in February. The Nation has seen emails and text messages from staff members in both departments that raise doubts about the process.

Following the controversy, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) last week wrote to the NACC board following complaints of irregularities and favouritism on the appointment of Dr Ruth Laibon-Masha as the new CEO.

“We received the complaints, and we have responded to the EACC,” said NACC Board Angeline Siparo.

NACC has not disclosed the criteria used to pick Dr Masha out of four deputy directors, some of whose resumes were way better. Ms Siparo directed the reporter to the EACC, who are yet to respond to the Nation.

WORLD BANK

On Tuesday last week, Ms Siparo sent a statement to the media about the appointment of Dr Laibon-Masha, taking over from Dr Nduku Kilonzo, who had been in office since 2014.

Those eyeing the position included Mr Dennis Kamuren, now the Deputy Director for Finance and Administration, an MBA holder from the University of Nairobi with 15 years in management, including working at the World Bank.

The other is Emmy Chesire, now NACC’s Deputy Director for Support and Coordination who has a PhD in Public Health and holds a Master in Education in Primary Health Care from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. Emmy has over 29 years’ experience in public service having lectured at Kenya Medical Training College and at the United Nations.

Regina Ombam is the Deputy Director, HIV Investments and is pursuing her PhD in Economics at the University of Nairobi. She has worked in the HIV space for over 20 years and has even lectured at the University of Nairobi.

WORKING EXPERIENCE

Then there is John Kamigwi Mwangi, the Deputy Director for Policy, Monitoring and Research, a veteran but he was uninterested in the position as he is about to retire.

Dr Masha has worked for the UNAids Kenya office, ActionAid and Family Health Options Kenya. She has a PhD in Public Health from Jomo Kenyatta University. Her LinkedIn account says she has worked in the HIV space for 10 years and one month.

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