MS Risk Blog

Ebola Outbreak in DRC Sparks Fears of Another Major Epidemic

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The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Friday 12 May that an Ebola outbreak has been declared in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after the deadly virus causes three deaths in the area since 22 April. Nine suspected infections have been reported.

According to the WHO, the outbreak affects an equatorial forest region in Bas-Uele province, which borders the Central African Republic (CAR). The WHO has disclosed that it is working closely with DRC authorities in order to help deploy health workers and protective equipment in the remote area to “rapidly control the outbreak.” In a television address, Health Minister Oly Ilunga confirmed the outbreak while urging the population “not to panic,” and stating that the country “has taken all necessary measures to respond quickly and efficiently to this new outbreak.”

Logistical Challenge in Latest Outbreak

The remote region in the DRC’s far north poses a logistical challenge for doctors and aid workers, however the sheer remoteness of the area could also help in limiting the spread.

According to the WHO, the zone at Likati, which is located some 1,300 kilometres (930 miles) from the capital Kinshasa, was very difficult to access, stressing however that it was crucial to pinpoint who had had contact with those affected in order to contain the outbreak. While the main city in the northeast, Kisangani, is accessible by air, and then one could travel by road to Buta, which is the capital of Bas-Uele, covering the 150 kilometres that separates Buta and Likati is another matter, combining travel by boat along the Itimbiri river and then using motorbikes to reach Likati. According to Eugene Kabambi, the spokesman for the WHO’s Congo mission, “four-wheel drives wont go through” the narrow forest roads, with Regis Billaudel, the head of mission of the medical NGO Alima, disclosing that “taking heavy equipment in all these zones is a real chilling…There it’s a world of motorcycles, cycles and stretchers.” He went on to say that an Alima team was already on its way to Likati adding “we are studying various possibilities.”

Previous Outbreaks

The last Ebola outbreak in the DRC occurred in 2014 and was quickly contained. According to official figures, it killed 49 people. This latest outbreak is the eight to date. Meanwhile in a separate outbreak that began in 2013, the Ebola epidemic in West Africa killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and has left thousands more survivors with long-term health problems. The WHO was criticized at the time for responding too slowly and for failing to grasp the gravity of the outbreak.

Ebola is a viral illness whose initial sysmptoms may include a sudden fever, aching muscles and a sore threat, with subsequent symptoms including diarrhoea and vomiting and, on occasion, internal and external bleeding. Humans can catch the illness from close contact with infected animals. Inter-human transmission occurs through direct contact with infected blood or bodily fluids. Mourners can also catch it if they have direct contact with the bodies of victims at funerals.