Ebola outbreaks continue in DR Congo

Luisa Freutel | Tue, 23 Jun 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, new cases of Ebola were confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the 1st of June in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were reported from the northwestern city of Mbandaka, which has a population of more than one million people. This comes after the discovery of the presence of the virus in the city of Beni in April.

Ebola, which is named after the river Ebola in Congo, causes, amongst others high fever, muscle pain and weakness and has an average fatality rate of 50 percent. The virus is spread through contact with body fluids or organs of an infected person or animal. DR Congo’s Minister of Public Health, Eteni Longondo, recently announced that four people have died from the new Ebola outbreak and at least two more are infected. According to the WHO, it is likely that more people will be identified and tested with this virus as surveillance activities will increase.

Between 2014-2016, West Africa experienced its largest Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. Starting in Guinea, the virus spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and DR Congo. More than 11 000 people got killed, whereof more than 3 000 deaths were only reported in DR Congo. Since the detection of this deadly disease, DR Congo suffered numerous outbreak cycles. The new outbreak is already the 11th cycle although the 10th, which occurred in the eastern part of the country, is not even fully vanquished yet.

Only a few weeks ago, DR Congo was close to declaring the official end to the Ebola epidemic on the eastern regions of the country that has lasted almost two years and killed over 2 200 people. Due to new Ebola cases, the outbreak has not been declared over yet, although officials argue that the epidemic is in its final stage. Right now, it is still unclear how this deadly disease emerged again in Mbandaka, which is more than 1 000 km far away from affected eastern cities. The previous outbreak in this city was reported in May 2018, but following deliveries of Ebola vaccines by the WHO, the outbreak was declared over only two months after, in July 2018.

Currently, the new outbreak of Ebola is not the only concern in the country as it also battles the coronavirus and measles epidemic. As reported by the WHO, DR Congo has so far 72 deaths of COVID-19 and more than 3 000 infections. The probably worst outbreak that this central African country ever faced is measles, which nearly killed 7 000 people and infected 370 000 since 2019.

Officials are confident that the new outbreak of Ebola will be brought under control quickly as travel restrictions between DR Congo’s provinces in response to the COVID-19 outbreak may help to contain the virus. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said that a quick response to the new outbreak is essential to prevent Ebola to spread to vulnerable neighbor countries. Over the last two years, the WHO has worked with local health authorities to strengthen and support national capacity to contain new outbreaks. In the next days, more WHO expert teams are expected to arrive in the country to help implement measures and responses to this virus.

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