DRC’s Health Minister Quits After Taken Off Managing Ebola Outbreak

Oly Ilunga Kalenga also criticised a second Ebola vaccine by Johnson & Johnson.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) health minister has stepped down after the presidency removed his responsibility for managing the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Al Jazeera reported that in a resignation letter he tweeted last Monday, Oly Ilunga Kalenga criticised “interference in the management of the response” to the Ebola outbreak that is the second deadliest in history.

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi’s office announced last Saturday that a multi-disciplinary team, which would report directly to Tshisekedi, would be responsible for managing the health emergency.

“As a result of your decision to place the response to the Ebola outbreak under your direct supervision … I hereby submit my resignation as health minister,” Ilunga was quoted saying.

“As in any war, because that is what this is, there cannot be several centres of decision-making for risk of creating confusion.”

The Ebola outbreak has reportedly killed over 1,700 people since it appeared last August in DRC’s eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, both of which border Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola epidemic last week as a public health emergency of international concern, a rare designation used only for the most serious epidemics, after the virus spread to the city of Goma. 

Ilunga also reportedly slammed outside pressure to use a second Ebola vaccine by Johnson & Johnson.

“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 was quoted saying.

WHO and medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have reportedly called for the second vaccine to be used. But Ilunga reportedly claimed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was ineffective and said deploying a second vaccine would only confuse the public.

The US-based pharmaceutical company said its vaccine is safe.

Al Jazeera reported that almost 170,000 people so far have been vaccinated with an experimental vaccine by Merck that, according to WHO, may protect one for up to a year.

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