On Wednesday the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared an end to the 11th Ebola outbreak, six months after the sighting of the first case.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General at the WHO described the new development as a great achievement. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director tweeted, “This is a big achievement."
According to medical specialists, the virus from the two regions is distinct as they originate from different genetic sequencing. The outbreak at Equator posed a major logistical challenge for both health and aid workers who had to mobilize in the midst of a global pandemic.
This occurred in the middle of a Covid-19 pandemic when resources are not only strained but in a hard-to-reach-area of a remote village community. Some of the locations required boats or helicopters to access residents or collect lab samples. Insecurity and community mistrust remains a challenge after years of conflict from militias and armed groups. In some cases, health workers are attacked by unarmed groups.
The outbreak was first reported in early June at the northwestern Equateur Province of the DRC resulting in 130 infection cases and 55 deaths. This posed a challenge to emergency responders who had quelled another deadly outbreak in the county’s east. Effects of that outbreak devastated the country and involved the frantic efforts of 16,000 healthcare workers and claiming 2200 lives. Decisively responding to the virus was hampered by community mistrust and violence.
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The WHO and local health workers have visited over 545,000 households vaccinating 40,000 people exposed to the highest risk. Meanwhile, they adhered to the Covid-19 precautions and restrictions such as wearing protective gear. A new cold chain storage freezer system was used to keep the vaccines at extremely low temperatures for an entire week allowing responders to administer vaccines in communities without electricity.
The Ebola virus
Ebola first emerged in 1976 in Sudan where it got its name from a River. It is among the most lethal virulent diseases transmitted through direct contact with blood or body fluids of another infected person. Ebola results in fever, severe headaches, and hemorrhaging in rare cases. Broken skin, the eyes, nose, mouth, or sexual intercourse are potential entry points.
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Despite the celebrations, WHO expressed caution of a likely resurgence given the virus’ persistence in the body fluids of survivors and presence in animals in the DRC. The 11th outbreak calls for continued surveillance and vigilance for several months to come.