Rwanda, Congo restrict unnecessary border travel amid Ebola

Health

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwanda and Congo are discouraging travel across their border to prevent further spread of the highly contagious Ebola virus.

Travel restrictions are part of measures taken by Rwandan and Congolese health officials who met in Rwanda.

People traveling across the border for non-essential reasons, such as attending workshops and religious crusades, will need clearance from both governments, according to a statement issued Tuesday following the meeting in Rwanda’s western Rubavu province.

This outbreak has killed more than 1,800 people, nearly a third of them children.

The World Health Organization warns that the risk of regional spread of Ebola is “very high” but discourages travel restrictions. Any border closure is likely to push travelers to avoid official border posts, where people are checked for signs of fever and other Ebola symptoms. Borders in the region are porous and people often take unofficial paths to visit a neighboring country.

In June, three people who crossed on an unguarded footpath into Uganda died there before their family members were taken back to Congo for treatment. Despite that incident, Uganda has kept its border with Congo open.

Rwanda briefly closed its border with Congo last week after an Ebola case was confirmed in Goma, a Congolese city of more than 2 million people about 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) from Rwanda’s main border town of Gisenyi. Congo’s government condemned Rwanda’s decision to close the border before it was reopened hours later.

WHO declared this outbreak a global health emergency — the fifth in history — days after Goma’s first Ebola case was confirmed.

The wife and 1-year-old daughter of the city’s first Ebola victim, a gold miner, later tested positive for the disease, the first transmission of the virus inside the densely populated crossroads city. More than 200 people who came into contact with the miner have been tracked and 160 of them have been vaccinated, according to Congolese authorities.

WHO’s declaration of an emergency has brought a surge of millions of dollars in new pledges by international donors, but some health workers say a new approach is needed to effectively combat misunderstandings in a part of eastern Congo that has never before experienced Ebola.

In a separate measure to control the spread of the disease, churches in Rwanda have advised people not to shake hands.

There is no licensed treatment for Ebola, which is spread by close contact with bodily fluids of those infected, and survival can depend on seeking treatment as quickly as possible. But many people in the region don’t believe the virus is real and choose to stay at home when they become sick, infecting those who care for them, say health workers.

This outbreak is second in size only to the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,300 people.

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Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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