By Patient Ligodi

MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Two more people have died from Ebola and seven new cases were confirmed in Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said on Tuesday, but resistance to some public guidance about preventing the disease was evident in a provincial capital.

At the central market in Mbandaka, where vendors in colorful fabrics hawk smoked monkeys, some residents said they were unmoved by warnings not to consume bush meat.

“Despite your Ebola stories, we buy and eat monkey meat,” said one woman named Carine, a mother of eight children. “We have eaten that since forever. That is not going to change today. Ebola, that’s in Bikoro.”

Experts who have studied the Ebola virus from its discovery in 1976 along the Ebola river in Congo, then Zaire, say its suspected origin is forest bats. Links have also been made to the carcasses of freshly slaughtered animals eaten as bush meat.

One of the two new deaths occurred in Mbandaka, according to a daily healthy ministry bulletin. A nurse also died in the village of Bikoro, where the outbreak was first detected, ministry spokeswoman Jessica Ilunga told Reuters.

The seven new confirmed cases were registered in Bikoro, the ministry said. The outbreak is believed to have killed at least 27 people so far.

CROWDED TRADING HUB

Health officials are particularly concerned by the disease’s presence in Mbandaka, a crowded trading hub on the Congo River with road, water and air links to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.

Four cases have been confirmed in the city’s Wanganta neighborhood and two more cases are suspected.

Congo has faced nine outbreaks of the hemorrhagic fever since it was discovered. The government and international partners have deployed significant resources to the northwestern Equateur province in a bid to quickly contain its spread.

Health officials administered an experimental vaccine on Monday to 33 medical workers and Mbandaka residents, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.

The WHO said vaccine manufacturer Merck has provided it with 8,640 doses of the vaccine and an additional 8,000 doses are expected to be available in the coming days.

In remarks to the annual World Health Assembly on Tuesday in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, announced that the U.S. government would provide up to $7 million in additional funding to the Ebola response, on top of $1 million previously committed.

“The risk of spreading within the country and to neighboring nations remains real,” said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “One of the lessons we learned in our response to other deadly Ebola outbreaks is that complacency can kill.”

More than 11,300 people died in an Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016, during which health authorities were widely criticized for their slow response.

(Reporting By Patient Ligodi; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma and Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by William Maclean)

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