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DR Congo declares end to 15th Ebola outbreak

Wednesday September 28 2022
Health workers prepare for an Ebola vaccination drive in Mbandaka, DR Congo.

Health workers prepare for an Ebola vaccination drive in Mbandaka, DR Congo, in May 2018 after an outbreak. DRC on September 27, 2022 declared an end to its 15th Ebola virus outbreak. PHOTO | FILE

By PARTICK ILUNGA

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday declared an end to an Ebola virus outbreak that emerged in North Kivu Province, in the east of the country, six weeks ago, the World Health Organization has said.

Only one case of the virus was confirmed on August 15 in Beni, according to a WHO statement, making the DRC’s 15th Ebola outbreak its “least catastrophic”.

The 46-year-old woman died after 23 days in hospital, said Jean-Jacques Mbungani, DR Congo Minister of Public Health, Hygiene and Prevention.

Five people died during the 14th outbreak which ended in July.

“After 42 days of reinforced surveillance without a new confirmed case, and according to the WHO protocol, I am happy to declare the end of the 15th Ebola virus disease epidemic in North Kivu, which lasted one month and 12 days,” the minister stated.

According to the WHO protocol, it takes 42 days without new infection for an Ebola epidemic to be considered over.

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Read: Ebola infections, deaths rise in Uganda

“The resurgence of Ebola occurred in the health zone of Beni which has been under siege since May 2021. It is in this context that the response was organised. Thanks to the achievements of previous epidemics, the expertise of local teams and their professionalism have made it possible to contain this disease within the limits of the health area in the Beni zone,” Dr Mbungani said.

According to the findings of the National Institute of Biomedical Research, the woman who died in the 15th Ebola outbreak was infected with the Zaire strain. It was a “persistent” strain, like the one that killed more than 2,200 people in North Kivu in 2020. 

Read: Uganda closes clubs, limits gatherings to curb Ebola spread

Since the outbreak, the Ministry of Health and the WHO have put in place a rapid response protocol including screening, contact tracing, infection control, vaccination and widespread community awareness.

These measures helped to curb the spread of the disease. 

The Minister of Health warned: “The ecosystem of our country and the high number of people recovered from previous Ebola outbreaks constitute a high and permanent risk for our country of a resurgence of Ebola disease. This is why we must further strengthen our epidemiological surveillance in general and in particular around those who have recovered, while reflecting on appropriate strategies to be put in place for all areas at risk.”

In light of the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Uganda last week, DR Congo will continue with heightened surveillance.

The Uganda outbreak has been cause by the Sudan strain of the virus.

“In view of the outbreak of Ebola in Uganda, cross-border surveillance should be strengthened and a preparedness plan should be put in place to be able to rapidly detect any public health emergency and thus reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality,” said Dr Jean-Jacques Mbungani.

Read: Focus on prevention, no vaccine for rare Ebola strain, Uganda told

Since 1976, when doctors, epidemiologists and virologists first discovered the Ebola virus in north-western Congo, then Zaire, 15 Ebola epidemics have been recorded in the country. The deadliest of these was in North Kivu between 2018 and 2020, where more than 2,200 people died. 

Ebola is transmitted through contact with infected animals and through direct contact with body fluids of an infected person.

Symptoms vary, but common ones include sudden onset of fever, severe weakness, muscle aches, headaches and throat irritation. Other symptoms are vomiting and diarrhoea, skin rashes, kidney and liver dysfunction and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding.

After several outbreaks of Ebola, the DRC authorities say they have developed the expertise to prevent a large-scale spread of the virus in the country.

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