WHO declares the end of the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola in Congo

An 11th Ebola outbreak has been declared on 1 June 2020 as new cases are already cropping up in the northwestern city of Mbandaka.


Two years after an Ebola outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organisation has finally declared it has come to an end. This announcement came as the world battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic and is warfighting the rising infection cases.

According to UNICEF, Ebola is transmitted from sick or dead people or animals and causes fever, bleeding, weakness, and abdominal pain. The disease has a mortality rate between 50 and 60 percent but can be as high as 78 percent among children under 5.

 WHO declares the end of the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola in Congo

Sensibilisation and contact tracing. Image credit: WHO/L.Mackenzie

The first Ebola case was discovered on 1 August 2018 in North Kivu and is thought to be the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak to take place. The 2014–16 epidemic in West Africa that spread in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, infected 28,616 people and killed more than 11,000 people, is considered to be the first deadliest outbreak. The disease spread in the South Kivu and Ituri provinces and a total of 3470 cases were discovered with more than 2000 deaths and 1171 survivors. More than 16,000 local frontline responders worked alongside WHO-deployed healthcare personnel.

“Compared to previous outbreaks, this last one was the longest, the most complex and the deadliest,” said Health Minister Eteni Longondo.

"The world is now better-equipped to respond to Ebola. A vaccine has been licensed, and effective treatments identified,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press statement. “We should celebrate this moment, but we must resist complacency. Viruses do not take breaks. Ultimately, the best defence against any outbreak is investing in a stronger health system as the foundation for universal health coverage.”

According to an article by Nature, this outbreak was one of the most complicated health emergencies ever witnessed as it took place in a region Congon that has been plagued by 25 years of war and political instability. Reports of fights and mistrust among community members and government officials along with attacks on health care facilities made this a challenge. The WHO has recorded 420 attacks on health facilities, resulting in 11 deaths and 86 injuries.

A member of the ring vaccination team vaccinates a man in Bosolo village. Image credit: WHO/L. Mackenzie

A member of the ring vaccination team vaccinates a man in Bosolo village. Image credit: WHO/L. Mackenzie

However, Ebola is often used as a success story, by the WHO, when talking about the importance of contact tracing, testing, and isolation patients infected. In Congo, more than 200,000 contacts were registered, 220 000 samples tested and over 303,000 people were vaccinated with the rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine.

“During the almost two years we fought the Ebola virus, WHO and partners helped strengthen the capacity of local health authorities to manage outbreaks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The DRC is now better, smarter, and faster at responding to Ebola and this is an enduring legacy which is supporting the response to COVID-19 and other outbreaks.”

While this outbreak has been dealt with, new cases are already cropping up in the northwestern city of Mbandaka and as 1 June 2020, an 11th Ebola outbreak has been declared. To date, 24 people have been infected and 13 people have died and efforts to stop the spread has begun all over again.

However, Longondo says it will be easier to respond to this epidemic as it is in a more stable part of the country where a previous epidemic in 2018 was quickly controlled.


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