Africa

Democratic Republic of Congo calls end to 2nd-deadliest Ebola outbreak ever

Even as outbreak ends in country’s eastern area, another smaller outbreak surfaces in the northwest

 
By Kiran Pandey
Last Updated: Friday 26 June 2020
Ebola outbreak: A member of the ring vaccination team vaccinates a man. Photo: WHO / L Mackenzie

The second-deadliest Ebola virus disease outbreak in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was over, said the country’s government June 25, 2020.

The outbreak in eastern DRC began in August 2018, with the last case reported on April 27, according to the country’s government. For an outbreak to be officially over, there must be no new cases for 42 days. The last known patient suffering from the disease was discharged from a hospital in Beni city.

The worst outbreak occurred in west Africa between 2014 and 2016.

Outbreak management

Four key factors played a significant role for this outcome to become a reality:

  • Rapid rollout of a highly effective vaccine that slowed the spread of Ebola
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the outbreak an international public health emergency on July 2019
  • Effective governance with a change in leadership
  • Health workers, epidemiologists and door-to-door contact tracing of infected cases 

The Ebola virus infected 3,463 people and claimed 2,287 lives, according to DR Congo health minister Eteni Longondo.

Children accounted for 28 per cent of all cases, compared to about 20 per cent in previous epidemics, said the UNICEF.

“Ending this outbreak is a sign of hope for the region and the world: With solidarity, science, courage and commitment, even the most challenging epidemics can be controlled,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

The declaration comes even as the DRC is under threat from two other outbreaks: the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the world’s largest measles epidemic.

The measles epidemic is a cause for concern as funds and other resources have been diverted to fight the spread of COVID-19, since its emergence.

Second outbreak in northwest

The virus, however, resurfaced this month in areas of the country’s former Equateur province in the northwest.

Ebola resurfaced in Equateur on June 1 and has, so far, killed 13 people and infected 24. This is the 11th outbreak in the country since 1976 and is not linked to the one in the east or an earlier outbreak in the same area between May and July 2018.

The new outbreak emerged in Mbandaka, a major trading port and transport hub on the Congo river. In April, the WHO had warned of expected flare-ups at the tail-end of Ebola outbreaks.

UNICEF said increased efforts must continue in response to the new outbreak, which has concerned some epidemiologists as the main cities in the region are situated along the Congo River, which connects Mbandaka with Kinshasa and capital Brazzaville.

The two cities are home to millions of people, raising new fears of an urban epidemic.

“As DRC records over 6,000 cases of COVID-19 infection, it is more important than ever for international donors to support the country’s already overburdened health systems,” said UNICEF.

The UN agency has called for additional support to deal with the new outbreak.

The WHO is reportedly short of at least $83 million to contain the Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

The UN health body will, however, continue working with the DRC to ensure the population benefits from universal health coverage and are protected from future health risks, said Moeti in a statement June 25.

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