DR Congo’s Health Minister, Oly Ilunga has resigned after being stripped of responsibility for managing the country’s Ebola outbreak by President Felix Tshisekedi, potentially paving the way for the introduction of a second vaccine to contain the spreading epidemic.
Oly Ilunga has overseen Congo’s near year-long response to what is the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. It has killed more than 1,700 and been declared an international health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
President Felix Tshisekedi on Saturday appointed a team led by Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the head of Congo’s biomedical research institute, to coordinate the government’s response in Ilunga’s place.
In his resignation letter, the minister criticized pressure by unnamed “actors” to deploy the second vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and backed by the WHO.
It has yet to be used on the ground due to Ilunga’s objections. It is designed to complement a Merck treatment that has been given to 170,000 people and proved effective.
Ilunga has said the J&J vaccine has not been proved effective and that deploying a second one would confuse people in eastern Congo, where health workers are struggling to overcome widespread misinformation about the hemorrhagic fever as well as sporadic hostility.
Ilunga said 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.”