The 12th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was declared officially over on May 3, just three months after the first case was reported in North Kivu, but it marks the end of the country’s fourth outbreak of the deadly disease in less than three years, said the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus—an often-fatal illness spread through contact with bodily fluids, which kills, on average, around half of those infected—re-emerged in February, nine months after another outbreak in the same province was declared over.
In a press release, WHO congratulated the health authorities in DRC, and the health workers “on the ground for their swift response which built on the country’s previous experience in tackling Ebola outbreaks.”
Eleven confirmed cases and one probable case resulting in six deaths and six recoveries were recorded in four health zones in North Kivu, from February 7, when the Ministry of Health announced the resurgence of Ebola in Butembo.
Results from genome sequencing conducted by the country’s National Institute of Biomedical Research, found that the first Ebola case detected in the outbreak was linked to the previous outbreak, but the source of infection is yet to be determined.
‘Huge credit’ to local workers
“Huge credit must be given to the local health workers and the national authorities for their prompt response, tenacity, experience and hard work that brought this outbreak under control,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Although the outbreak has ended, we must stay alert for possible resurgence and at the same time use the growing expertise on emergency response to address other health threats the country faces.”
The response was coordinated by the Provincial Department of Health in collaboration with WHO and partners.
With nearly 60 experts on the ground, WHO helped local workers to trace contacts as soon as the outbreak was declared, providing treatment, engaging communities and vaccinating nearly 2,000 people at high risk, including over 500 frontline workers.
“Today’s declaration of an end to the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a testament to the professionalism, sacrifices, and collaboration by hundreds of true health heroes, in particular the Congolese responders,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement released later on May 3. “The World Health Organization is committed to helping national and local authorities, and the people of North Kivu, prevent the return of this deadly virus and to promote the overall health and well-being of all at-risk communities.”
The response was often hampered by insecurity due to armed groups in the restive region, close to the border with Uganda, and social unrest, according to WHO, “which at times limited the movement of responders.”
There were concerns too, over the potential cross-border spread of the outbreak. However, due to the effective response the outbreak was contained within North Kivu province.
“While the 12th outbreak is over, there is a need for continued vigilance and maintaining a strong surveillance system as potential flare-ups are possible in the months to come,” said WHO.
It is important to continue with sustained disease surveillance, monitoring of alerts and working with communities to detect and respond rapidly to any new cases and WHO will continue to assist health authorities with their efforts to quickly contain a sudden re-emergence of Ebola, the UN health agency added.
Covid, measles, cholera
WHO continues to work with the Government of DRC to fight other public health problems such as outbreaks of measles and cholera, and of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.
Latest figures from WHO show more than 22,000 cases and 144 deaths attributable to the coronavirus.
The 2018–2020 outbreak was the 10th in the DRC and the country’s deadliest, with 3,481 cases, 2,299 deaths and 1,162 survivors.
An ongoing Ebola outbreak also erupted in Guinea, West Africa, beginning in February.