DRC tames 11th Ebola outbreak

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Harare - The Democratic Republic of Congo this week declared the end of the 11th Ebola outbreak on record in the Equateur Province of the SADC member state.

The latest virus occurrence in Equateur Province - which was also the epicentre of the country’s ninth Ebola outbreak in 2018 – saw 119 confirmed cases, 11 probable cases, 55 deaths and 75 recoveries.

The outbreak was declared in May and began at a time when experts were about to declaring an end to the 10th outbreak in North Kivu Province. It also came as the country was coming to terms with the arrival of COVID-19 in its borders.

The World Health Organisation confirmed the end of the latest outbreak, and commended the leadership of the DRC government, and the commitment of local communities and other partners.

“Overcoming one of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in remote and hard to access communities demonstrates what is possible when science and solidarity come together,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Director for Africa.

“The technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at super-cold temperatures will be helpful when bringing a COVID-19 vaccine to Africa. Tackling Ebola in parallel with COVID-19 has not been easy, but much of the expertise we have built in one disease is transferrable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.”

WHO said responders engaged communities and vaccinated more than 40,000 people at high risk in the province.

“Vaccinators used innovative cold chain storage to keep the Ebola vaccine at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius. The ARKTEK freezers can keep vaccines at very low temperatures in the field for up to a week and enabled responders to vaccinate people in communities without electricity.”

The response to the latest outbreak was however made difficult due to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The response to the 11th Ebola outbreak had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained resources and created difficulties around the movement of experts and supplies. There were also challenges around the large number of cases in remote communities which were often only accessible by boat or helicopter and at times community resistance hampered response efforts,” said WHO.

“While the 11th outbreak is over, there is a need for continued vigilance and maintaining strong surveillance as potential flare-ups are possible in the months to come. In this regard, WHO and other partners are currently conducting important actions for improving critical operational capacities in Equateur province, including training frontline workers.  

“The end of this outbreak serves as a reminder that governments and partners must continue to focus attention on other emergencies, even as the fight against COVID-19 persists.”

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