Congo’s Health Minister resigns over government’s handling of Ebola

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Democratic Republic of Congo's Minister of Health, Oly Ilunga

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Health Minister, Oly Ilunga, resigned on Monday in protest at the Presidency’s announcement last week, that 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.

A health care worker from the World Health Organization gives an Ebola vaccine to an aid worker in Mbandaka, Congo

In his resignation letter posted on his twitter account, 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.

“Following the decision of the @Presidence_RDC to manage at its level the epidemic of #Ebola I resigned as Minister of Health on Monday.”

“It was an honour to be able to put my expertise at the service of our Nation during these two important years of our History,” Ilunga said in the tweet.

“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,” Ilunga said.

It was not immediately clear which actors he was referring to, but international donors like the World Health Organization (WHO), 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.

 

Chidi Nwoke.