Latest figures released by the Health Ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) indicate that the current Ebola outbreak in the eastern region of the country has surpassed 1,500 deaths. The Ebola outbreak, which was first detected in August 2018, is now the second largest outbreak in history.
On Monday 24 June, the country’s health ministry confirmed that as of 23 June, 1,506 people have died of Ebola out of 2,239 recorded cases. Officials have indicated that nearly 141,000 people have been vaccinated in the affected DRC provinces of Itrui and North Kivu, the epicentre of the outbreak. Ebola spread amongst humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids. The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014 – 2016, killing more than 11,300 people. Response to the current outbreak in eastern DRC however has been hampered by chronic violence and militia activity as well as hostility to medical teams amongst locals. On Monday 24 June, a crowd of people opposed to the burial of two Ebola victims in the Beni area burnt the vehicle of a health team. One member of the medical team had been injured in the attack.
Regional countries are also increasingly being impacted by the outbreak, particularly Uganda, which earlier this month confirmed several cases of the deadly virus, coupled by increasing violence in the eastern DRC, which has resulted in thousands fleeing and crossing the border. The United Nations refugee agency reported on 25 June that about 7,500 Congolese fleeing violence have arrived in Uganda since the beginning of this month. The UNHCR has reported that people are leaving the DRC at a rate of 311 a day. The situation has been made worse because of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the DRC and there are growing concerns that the refugees could be carrying the deadly virus. The refugees are running away from clashes between two ethnic groups – the Hema and the Lendu – in the DRC’s north-eastern province of Ituri, an area that has long been plagued by violence and lawlessness. According to the local governor, more than 160 people have been killed in two weeks of the violence in several villages of Ituri. UNHCR workers have reported that recent arrivals from the DRC “speak of extreme brutality. Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, torching and looting houses, and killing men, women and children.” The violence has been taking place in a remote area of the DRC, near South Sudan and Uganda where the UN says there is limited access for humanitarians. Authorities believe that the perpetrators were militia fighters from the Lendu community. The DRC’s military believes that they are linked to Mathieu Ngudjolo, who was acquitted of war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2012. Most Congolese are fleeing via Lake Albert from Ituri province, where an estimated 300,000 people have been displaced since early June. A refugee reception centre in Uganda is currently home to 4,600 new arrivals, 1,600 more than its maximum intended capacity.
At the beginning of June, Ugandan authorities confirmed that the Ebola virus claimed two lives amongst a family who had travelled to the DRC. The outbreak was reported on 11 June in the western Kasese District While currently there are no other known cases of the virus in the country, Ugandan authorities have increased detection procedures at border crossings and at airports.
Earlier this month, the head of the World Health Organization disclosed that a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is “inevitable,” noting however that a new vaccine, coupled with rapid-response measures, mean that it will be more effectively contained.
Speaking at an event in the Guinean capital Conakry this month, dedicated to individuals who fought to control the disease in their communities, WHO chief Margaret Chan thanked the Guinean government for its role in developing the vaccine, which was announced in December 2016, but added a note of caution. Speaking to an audience of scientists, Ebola response coordinators and dignitaries, Chad warned that “scientists do not yet know exactly where in nature the Ebola virus hides between outbreaks, but nearly all experts agree that another outbreak is inevitable,” adding that “when this occurred, the world will be far better prepared.”
In a major clinical trial using an innovative “ring,” or group method, nearly 6,000 people in Guinea were given the test vaccine in 2015, during which not one of them contracted the disease. Chan disclosed last week that even with an “initially limited” first batch of the vaccine, health authorities had another option in their arsenal “beyond isolation and quarantine.”
The Ebola virus was first identified in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since then, it has erupted periodically in outbreaks of up to a couple of hundred cases, mainly across western and eastern Africa. The most deadliest outbreak of the virus occurred in early 2014, when a handful of infections in southern Guinea mushroomed rapidly into an epidemic. Officials have disclosed that that outbreak began with a child in December 2013. It would go on to kill at least 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and left thousands more survivors with long-term health problems. At the time, the WHO was criticized for its slow response and for failing to grasp the gravity of the outbreak.
Chan also emphasized that anther positive outcome of the Ebola crisis was renewed focus and funding for vaccines against other contagious diseases, including the fatal Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) as well as the Lassa and Nipah viruses.
On 9 June, the latest Ebola outbreak in Liberia, the last country still affected by the deadliest flare-up in history, was declared over.
Liberia effectively passed the World Health Organization (WHO) threshold of 42 days – twice the incubation period for the virus, since the last known patient tested negative for the second time. Last week, the WHO declared an end to the latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea, however it warned that a recurrence of the virus remained a threat as previous declarations announcing the end of Ebola flare-ups in West Africa have been followed by the emergence of new cases. While in late March, the WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak no longer constituted an international emergency, new cases emerged in Liberia just two days later.
The Ebola epidemic began in Guinea in December 2013 and killed more than 11,300 people. It devastated economies and health systems in the worst affected countries in West Africa and tested the world’s capacity to respond to a global health emergency. At its peak in 2014, the Ebola outbreak sparked anxiety about a possible global pandemic and led some governments to threaten or unilaterally enforce travel bans to and from the worst-affected countries. In all, the virus affected ten countries, including the United States and Spain, with more than 28,000 cases reported – virtually all in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The WHO has drawn criticism for its delayed response to the Ebola crisis and its failure to identify the outbreak.
On Wednesday 1 June, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Guinea has reached the end of active Ebola virus transmission, in what is the second such declaration from the country at the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak of the disease.
The proclamation was made because the person with Guinea’s last confirmed case tested negative for the second time more than 42 days ago. Guinea will now effectively enter a 90-day period of heightened surveillance in order to make sure of the identification of any new cases before they spread to others.
During the most recent outbreak, seven confirmed and three possible cases of the virus surfaced between 17 March and 6 April. At lest five people died. Another three cases were recorded in neighboring Liberia in a woman who had travelled from Guinea along with her two children. The WHO has disclosed that the flare-up seems to have occurred after a person came into contact with infected body fluid from an Ebola survivor. Since the virus remains active in certain body fluids for months, the WHO cautions that the risk of outbreaks remain, however on Tuesday, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier disclosed that the organization is confident that affected countries are prepared and can deal with flare-ups efficiently.
Guinea is believed to be where the world’s worst Ebola outbreak occurred. The outbreak initially emerged in December 2014 and would later spread to two other neighboring countries – Liberia and Sierra Leone. Guinea first declared itself free of transmission in December 2015.
Health officials reported on Friday, 1 April that a woman has died of Ebola in Liberia, months after the West African country was declared free of the deadly disease. The announcement also comes weeks after neighbouring Guinea also recorded a new flare-up. Just days later, on 3 April, officials confirmed that the woman’s five-year-old son has tested positive for Ebola.
According to a senior health ministry official, “a young lady in her early thirties died of Ebola yesterday at the Redemption Hospital,” adding that the government was preparing to release a statement on the new case. A hospital worker also confirmed that the woman had tested positive for the disease and died on Thursday, 31 March. Authorities are now checking everyone the woman was in contact with and ten health care workers from the hospital where the woman died are currently under observation. A source has disclosed that there are strong indications that the woman came from Guinea where they border was closed, adding that the woman had travelled with three of her children.
The new cases are a setback for Liberia, which had been declared free from transmission for a third time on 14 January. The region also continues to see a number of small flare-ups even after countries have received the all-clear. Liberia was first declared free of the disease in May 2015, however new cases emerged twice, effectively forcing officials to rese the clock in a nation where more than 4,800 people have died from the deadly virus. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Ebola was no longer an international health emergency, warning however that flare-ups, at decreasing frequency, were expected. Last month Guinea documented a series of new infections, highlighting the difficulty in stamping out the lingering epidemic. There are currently no known cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, however in early April, the authorities announced that they have increased security measures along with screenings and surveillance points at all border crossings with Guinea.
More than 11,300 people died over the past two years in the world’s worst Ebola epidemic on record, with nearly all of them dying in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.