Congo health minister resigns over government handling of Ebola


FILE PHOTO: Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment center ...
FILE PHOTO: Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment center in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019.

In Summary

  • Ilunga has overseen the nearly year-long response to Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest in history.
  • It has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 800 others.
  • But President Felix Tshisekedi’s office announced on Saturday that it was assigning responsibility for the response to a multi-disciplinary team that would report directly to Tshisekedi.

Congo’s health minister, Oly Ilunga, resigned on Monday in protest at the presidency’s announcement last week that it was stripping his team of control over the response to the Ebola outbreak.

Ilunga has overseen the nearly year-long response to Democratic Republic of Congo’s latest Ebola epidemic, which is the second deadliest in history. It has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 800 others.

But President Felix Tshisekedi’s office announced on Saturday that it was assigning responsibility for the response to a multi-disciplinary team that would report directly to Tshisekedi.

In his resignation letter, Ilunga decried “interference in the management of the response” and criticised outside pressure to deploy a second Ebola vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson over his objections.

“It would be fanciful to think that the new vaccine proposed by actors who have shown an obvious lack of ethics by voluntarily hiding important information from medical authorities, could have a significant impact on the control of the current outbreak,” he said.

It was not immediately clear which actors he was referring to, but international donors like the World Health Organization and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres have publicly called for the use of the second vaccine.

Ilunga says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not been proved to be effective and that deploying a second vaccine would confuse people. The company has said the vaccine, which has gone through phase 1 trials, is safe.

The vaccine currently being used is manufactured by Merck and has been administered to about 170,000 people.

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