A third case of the Ebola virus in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been confirmed on Thursday, authorities said a one-year-old daughter of an Ebola patient who died on Wednesday has also contracted the virus.
This comes just as neighbouring Rwanda announced the closure of the border between the two countries amid concerns over the spread of the disease.
“Our government has closed the border with Democratic Republic of Congo because of the outbreak of Ebola,” said Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s minister in charge of the Eastern African Community.
Ebola response coordinator in North Kivu province where Goma is situated, Aruna Abedi confirmed the third case being the daughter of the patient who died yesterday Thursday.
“The little girl is in hospital, but the virus could be fatal as mortality rates are high in children,” he said.
On Wednesday, a man died of the highly contagious virus in the city of about two million people. He was known to have spent several days with his family while exhibiting symptoms, Abedi said.
This third confirmed case is the first transmission of Ebola inside Goma during this outbreak, as the previous two patients are thought to have contracted the disease elsewhere.
Thursday marks one year since the start of the epidemic, the second worst on record, which has led to more than 1,800 deaths in the DRC.
The painstaking work of finding, tracking and vaccinating people who had contact with the man – and contacts of those contacts has now reportedly begun.
After the first person to contract the disease in Goma died last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak an international health emergency – the fifth in history.
Before the Goma cases, no major cities had been affected by the epidemic that has hit the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. Rwanda and other neighbouring countries -South Sudan, Uganda and Burundi – are now on high alert.
The death of the girl’s father on Wednesday in Goma, in “such a dense population center underscores the very real risk of further disease transmission, perhaps beyond the country’s borders, and the very urgent need” for more international support, United Nations agencies said in a joint statement marking the anniversary of the outbreak.
Her father was a miner in his 40s who was returning from a part of north-eastern Ituri province where no Ebola cases in this outbreak have been recorded, WHO officials reported.
Goma had prepared for the arrival of Ebola for months by setting up hand-washing stations, making sure motor-taxi drivers did not share helmets, vaccinating 3,000 healthcare workers, and running an operational treatment centre since February.
However, efforts to curb Ebola in the country have been hampered by fighting between various militias – some of which have targeted health workers and facilities – as well as by a deep-rooted mistrust of health officials among local communities.
According to UN agencies, more than 2,600 cases have been confirmed so far.
Koketso Ramorei is a journalist and news editor of SADC News with years of experience in a number of genres including sports, politics and community reporting. He has worked for a numerous publications including The Citizen Newspaper and is a former editor of a Johannesburg-based off-campus publication called The Waldorfian Times.