Congolese and U.N. officials were racing to prevent a runaway Ebola outbreak in Congo on Thursday, working out the logistics of keeping newly arrived vaccines well below freezing in a steamy region on the equator with unreliable power.
World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the U.N. body would convene an Emergency Committee meeting on Friday to consider the international risks.
This is Democratic Republic of Congo's ninth epidemic since the disease was identified in the 1970s, but also its most alarming because of the risk of transmission via regular river transport to the capital Kinshasa, a city of 10 million.
An experimental but highly effective vaccine is being deployed against the virus, with health workers being vaccinated first, but it needs to be kept 80 degrees Celsius below freezing in a humid region where daytime temperatures hover around 30.
"For now, the cold chain is guaranteed at -80 degrees until Kinshasa," Health Minister Oly Ilunga told Reuters. "There is a fridge that will be prepared (on Thursday) ... in Mbandaka and that will be at -80."
"This vaccine is no longer experimental. The effectiveness has been proven and validated," he added. "Now that we are facing the Ebola virus we must use all the resources we have."
The WHO expert committee will decide whether to declare a "public health emergency of international concern", which would trigger more international involvement, mobilising research and resources, Lindmeier said.