July 19

From the experts

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Ebola Outbreak in the DRC

On June 25, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially announced that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) northeast region, which has been ravaging the region since August of 2018, has officially ended. No new cases have been detected in the northeastern part of the DRC since April 27, 2020. Yet, this extraordinary achievement was overshadowed by the other long-standing health battles in the DRC: the world’s largest measles epidemic, the rising threat of COVID-19, and the new Ebola virus outbreak in the country’s northwest region. Since the outbreak was declared in August 2018, the virus has killed over 2,000 people, making it the world’s second-largest outbreak of Ebola, the first being the 2014–16 West Africa epidemic which killed more than 11,000 people (Maxmen, 2020). The Kivu and Ituri province’s 25 years of war and political unrest in the northeast region added to the health emergency’s complexity. Over the course of the outbreak, more than 70 Ebola patients and Ebola responders were injured in various targeted attacks by armed groups and at least 11 were killed (Maxmen, 2020). 

However, the epidemic did contribute to key victories in vaccination and treatment. This was the first Ebola outbreak in which a vaccine for the virus was widely deployed. Two vaccines, made by Merck and Johnson & Johnson, were distributed to over 300,000 people who had been in close proximity to people with Ebola and their contacts (Kudra Maliro & Larson, 2020). More than 80% of people who were vaccinated were reportedly not infected with Ebola, and those who were infected had relatively mild cases (Maxmen, 2020). A clinical trial conducted by the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) also found that two antibody-based drugs, mAB114 and REGN-EB3, reduced deaths dramatically among those hospitalized soon after being infected (Kudra Maliro & Larson, 2020). These were then given to all consenting patients in Ebola treatment centres in northeastern DRC.

First responders hope to replicate these tactics in Équateur, a province in the northwestern part of the country, where 18 people have been reported to be infected with Ebola virus since an outbreak was declared there on June 1, 2020. This is the 11th outbreak of Ebola in the DRC since the virus was first discovered in 1976 (Yeung, 2020). As of June 14, 2020, authorities have reported 14 confirmed infections and 11 deaths in and around the northwestern city of Mbandaka in the province of Équateur. The United Nations has also released $40 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to help tackle the new outbreak of Ebola and other persistent health crises in the DRC (Yeung, 2020). Ibrahima Socé Fall, the assistant director-general for emergency response at the WHO, says “the region is difficult to reach by automobile which complicates the Ebola responders’ efforts”. He is worried about containing and treating Ebola patients in Équateur because of its inadequate health system and the extreme poverty and mobile nature of its population (Maxmen, 2020).

Although some doctors and researchers who were assisting in the northeast relocated to Équateur, many others stayed behind to help fight COVID-19. As of July 13, 2020 there have been at least 8,075 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 190 deaths (Johns Hopkins University, 2020). There is still a hopeful consensus among those in the region that the damage caused by the coronavirus can be minimal. Fortunately, people in the region are no strangers to the public health practice of social distancing. Schools and places of worship are already fully equipped with hand-washing kits (Kudra Maliro & Larson, 2020). The Ebola outbreak has truly changed these people’s way of life. Things such as not shaking hands is now culturally acceptable, although disrespectful under regular circumstances (Kudra Maliro & Larson, 2020). Now, maintaining good health is of the utmost importance.

References

Johns Hopkins University. (2020, July 13). COVID-19 Map. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html 

Kudra Maliro, A., & Larson, K. (2020, June 25). Congo announces end to 2nd deadliest Ebola outbreak ever. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.wbtv.com/2020/06/25/congo-announces-end-nd-deadliest-ebola-outbreak-ever/

Maxmen, A. (2020, June 29). World’s Second-Deadliest Ebola Outbreak Ends in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/worlds-second-deadliest-ebola-outbreak-ends-in-democratic-republic-of-the-congo/

Yeung, P. (2020, June 15). Democratic Republic of the Congo gears up to fight 11th Ebola outbreak. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2246095-democratic-republic-of-the-congo-gears-up-to-fight-11th-ebola-outbreak/

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