The Democratic Republic of Congo requires “critical” support to fend off growing Ebola outbreak

House in Bikoro, Équateur, is disinfected following the discovery of a confirmed Ebola case. Source: WHO/Junior D. Kannah.

Critical support needed. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) requires “critical” support to fend off a growing Ebola outbreak in the western Province of Équateur, warned WHO’s Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti on Friday. In the past five weeks, Ebola cases in Équateur have almost doubled to one hundred, claiming the lives of forty-three people.

Why it’s important. Emerging health disasters such as the DRC’s 11th Ebola outbreak continue to simmer as global attention remains on COVID-19. Since 1 June 2020, almost half of the province’s confirmed cases have resulted in deaths, and urgent action is needed to contain the virus’ spread, said the WHO Regional Office for Africa in a press release on Friday.

More funding required. So far, only US$6 million of the $40 million required for the Ebola response has been pledged. The DRC government has committed $4 million, and WHO has pledged $2 million, but much more is needed. Said Moeti:

“Without extra support the teams on the ground will find it harder to get ahead of the virus.”

“COVID-19 is not the only emergency needing robust support. As we know from our recent history we ignore Ebola at our peril.”

Big logistical challenges. In addition to the havoc triggered by COVID-19, a healthcare worker strike in the region has complicated the response. Responders are also grappling with “significant logistical challenges”, according to Moeti. Not only has Ebola spread across a whopping 300 km area both from east to west and from north to south, most affected communities also live in remote, densely forested areas that take ‘days’ to reach by river boat, increasing the time it takes to track down cases.

“There is currently a delay of about five days from the onset of symptoms to when an alert about a suspected case is raised… The longer a patient goes without treatment, the lower their chances of survival, and the longer the virus can spread unseen in communities," said WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“With 100 Ebola cases in less than 100 days, the outbreak in Équateur Province is evolving in a concerning way,” added Moeti.

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Ebola vaccination campaign in Mbandaka, Équateur Province. Source: WHO/Junior D. Kannah.

The DRC Requires “Critical” Support To Fend Off Growing Ebola Outbreak