Democratic Republic of Congo on alert for Marburg epidemic

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Health officials in Angola are saying the outbreak of the Ebola-like Marburg virus has claimed a record toll of 126, but the government said the number of dead was lower.

According to a statement released at a meeting in Luanda between officials of the WHO, the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the non-governmental health organisations Médecins Sans Frontières, the number is three higher than the worst affected case in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo between October 2004 and 28 March 2005, a total of 124 cases were recorded of whom 117 died.

Health officials in Angola are saying the outbreak of the Ebola-like Marburg virus has claimed a record toll of 126, but the government said the number of dead was lower.

Margarida Correia, the head of the maternity department in a prominent Luanda hospital says the situation is really serious and worse than the SARS in Asia in 2003. Not much is known about this deadly disease and staff in hospitals in Luanda attending to patients who may have the virus are very concerned as they are in direct contact with the sick without sufficient protection.

Vita Mvemba Luanda's provincial health director has appealed for international assistance, saying the southern African country, which only recently emerged from a brutal 27-year civil war, had only 1,200 doctors nationwide.

The Marburg virus, first identified in 1967, is a severe form of haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. It spreads on contact with the fluids the body produces in reaction to it, such as blood, urine, excrement, vomit and saliva.

Three-quarters of the deaths in Angola have been children under the age of five, according to the WHO, but the virus has also started to claim adult victims since it erupted in October.

Portugal, Angola's former colonial ruler is donating equipment worth 90,000 euros (U.S.$116,285) including gloves, protective eyewear, boots and masks. In Lisbon a Portuguese national who was hospitalised on his return home from Angola, amid fears of the virus, had in fact died of malaria.

Doctors in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are receiving emergency training in case the outbreak crosses the border, says Dr Daniel Mowanda, a health inspector in Bas Congo province and protective kits issued by the WHO were being distributed in provincial hospitals. The disease has also provoked a certain degree of hostility in Angola towards the Congolese.

Angolan health ministry spokesman Carlos Alberto said many victims died because they consulted 'kimbandeiros,' or traditional healers, and only came to the hospital when it was too late to do anything.

Angola is a country in southwestern Africa bordering Namibia, Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville and Zambia and with a west coast along the Atlantic Ocean. Angola's economy is in disarray because of a quarter century of nearly continuous warfare. Despite its abundant natural resources, output per capita is among the world's lowest.

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