A case of Ebola has been diagnosed in eastern Congo’s main city of Goma for the first time since the current outbreak began in 2018. The city of Goma is a major transport hub near the border with Rwanda with a population of more than two million. The lakeside city is more than 220 miles (350 kilometers) south of where the outbreak was first detected.
If the virus begins to infect people across Goma, Ebola could spread across one of Africa’s most densely populated areas and over the Rwanda border. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement, “The case in Goma could potentially be a game changer in this epidemic. It is a gateway to the region and the world.”
According to Congo’s health ministry, the patient who brought Ebola to Goma was a priest who traveled 125 miles (200 km) to Goma by bus from Butembo. In Butembo, he had interacted with Ebola patients. He has since been taken back to a clinic in Butembo for treatment.
The health ministry said in a statement that there was a low risk of the disease spreading. WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said they had identified 60 contacts, including the bus driver and 18 other passengers, and they would be vaccinated. Roughly 3,000 health workers in Goma have already been vaccinated.
The outbreak of Ebola that has hit the Democratic Republic of Congo is already considered the world’s second worst epidemic of the disease. The outbreak, the 10th to ravage the country since the virus was first discovered in 1976, has already infected 2,500 people and killed 1,655. People walk freely between the Rwandan city of Gisenyi and Goma, heightening concerns that Ebola could spread to Rwanda. Rwanda says it is on high alert to deal with the disease.