Democratic Republic of Congo declares end to Ebola outbreak

End of 11th outbreak is first time for nearly three years country has been free of Ebola

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has declared an end to its 11th Ebola outbreak, nearly six months after cases were reported.

The end of the outbreak in the western province of Équateur marks the first time that the vast central African nation has been Ebola-free in about two and a half years.

The DRC’s minister of health, Dr Eteni Longondo, made the official declaration along with the World Health Organization on Wednesday after no new cases were registered in more than 48 days.

In total, more than 55 deaths, 119 confirmed cases, 11 probable cases and 75 recoveries were recorded, according to the WHO.

The outbreak in western DRC, announced on 1 June, emerged shortly before the east of the country marked an official end on 25 June to the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which killed 2,280 people over nearly two years. The two outbreaks were geographically far apart, and genetic sequencing analysis found that they were unrelated.

“This constituted a major logistical challenge in terms of the implementation of response activities in a health system already weakened by previous epidemics and by a weak involvement of the community,” Longondo said.

The most recent outbreak had spread through and around the many rivers and lakes of Équateur province.

The minister called on the population to remain vigilant and continue to observe hygiene measures “to avoid the resurgence of Ebola but also to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which is raging in the country”.

Équateur province was also the site of the country’s ninth Ebola outbreak, which was overcome in a little over three months in 2018 with half as many cases reported, the WHO said.

Though DRC is poor and unstable, its health authorities and experts have repeatedly countered the threat of many dangerous diseases in recent years. About 40,000 people were vaccinated in the campaign to stem the disease’s spread.

The involvement of communities has proved key to success, experts say.

“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 Matshidiso Moeti, the director of the WHO’s Africa region, adding that some lessons learned from the effort against Ebola would be useful against the Covid-19 pandemic in 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 hasn’t been easy, but much of the expertise we’ve built in one disease is transferable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.”

The DRC has recorded almost 12,000 Covid cases and 322 deaths, a total that is likely to be a significant underestimate of the toll of the pandemic.

The WHO singled out “women leaders [who] were often at the forefront of the response, empowering other women with information”.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that this achievement did not mean the end of “considerable humanitarian challenges that the country is facing, including the ongoing Covid-19 emergency alongside long-standing economic and security issues”.

Jacques Katshishi, the secretary general of DRC’s Red Cross, said the country must continue to receive support from the international community.

“Bringing Ebola to zero is a huge achievement, but now we are faced with our next challenge: keeping it there. Our teams within the DRC Red Cross are facing Covid-19 within a complex humanitarian and security environment,” he said. “This is not a moment to be complacent: the world cannot afford a resurgence of Ebola in DR Congo. The time to prepare is now.”


Jason Burke Africa correspondent and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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