The Democratic Republic of Congo Health Ministry said Sunday more than 200 people have died from the Ebola virus since August, making it the worst outbreak in the country’s history.
In addition to the deaths, there were more than 300 confirmed or probable cases.
“In view of these figures, my thoughts and my prayers go to the hundreds of families grieving, to the hundreds of orphans and the families which have been wiped out,” Health Minister Orly Ilunga said, according to the BBC.
In a situation report released Thursday, the World Health Organization said there has been “substantial progress” in the fight against the virus in its fourth month.
“Nevertheless, there remains a challenging road ahead to control intense transmission in the city of Beni and emerging hotspots in villages around Beni and Butembo,” the organization said, citing security problems.
WHO said there was a high risk of the outbreak spreading to other provinces in the DRC and other countries. Neighboring Uganda intensified preparedness activities, including vaccinations, in case of an outbreak there.
The strategy in Uganda involves an experimental vaccine, which officials say will not be given to the public. More than 26,000 people in the DRC have been inoculated in a “ring vaccination” policy in which those who have been in contact with an Ebola patient are vaccinated. People who have been in contact with those persons are then also vaccinated. The tactic helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s.
The previous outbreak, contained in July, sickened 53 people and killed 33.
The spread of Ebola in the DRC is worsened by an ongoing civil war between militant groups and government forces. The conflict slows healthcare workers’ attempts to fight the virus.
Ebola was first identified in central Africa in 1976. In 2000 and 2001, 574 people were infected and 261 died in Uganda. More than 28,000 people were infected and 11,000 died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea between 2014 and 2016.