Kinshasa, DR Congo: Today marks the end of the ninth outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, joined DRC Minister of Health Dr Oly Ilunga for the announcement in Kinshasa.
“The outbreak was contained due to the tireless efforts of local teams, the support of partners, the generosity of donors, and the effective leadership of the Ministry of Health. That kind of leadership, allied with strong collaboration between partners, saves lives,” said Dr Tedros.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it congratulates the country and all those involved in ending the outbreak, while urging them to extend this success to combatting other diseases in DRC.
Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks in the country, this one involved four separate locations, including an urban centre with river connections to the capital and to neighbouring countries, as well as remote rainforest villages. There were initial concerns that the disease could spread to other parts of DRC, and to neighbouring countries.
Within hours of the outbreak being declared on 8 May, WHO released US$2 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies, deployed a team to augment capacity in the field, and activated an emergency incident management system.
“WHO moved quickly and efficiently,” said Dr Moeti, “We also demonstrated the tremendous capacity of the African region. More than three-quarters of the 360 people deployed to respond came from within the region. Dozens of experts from Guinea spent weeks leading Ebola vaccination efforts here, transferring expertise which will enable the DRC to mount an effective response both within its borders and beyond.”
Dr Tedros urged the DRC Government and the international community to build on the positive momentum generated by the quick containment of the Ebola outbreak.
“This effective response to Ebola should make the Government and partners confident that other major outbreaks affecting the country such as cholera and polio can also be tackled,” said Dr Tedros. “We must continue to work together, investing in strengthened preparedness and access to healthcare for the most vulnerable.”
Several groups administered a new experimental vaccine to front-line health workers and to those who had come into contact with Ebola patients, a practice known as ring vaccination. About 3,300 people received the vaccine, and though researchers will have to continue to monitor their progress, none of those who received the vaccine got sick.
The vaccine had been tested toward the tail end of the outbreak that struck Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone three years ago. A team of about 50 Guinean epidemiologists deployed to Congo to help administer the vaccine.
In interviews with public health officials over the last month, many lavished praise on both the Congolese health ministry and the World Health Organization, which had come under scrutiny for its lackluster response to the previous outbreak in West Africa.
“There is a lot of partners coming from different countries, and WHO is coordinating that so we don’t duplicate,” Pierre Rollin, the top Ebola expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview before he deployed to Congo.
About a dozen members of a CDC team based in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, deployed to Mbandaka, Bikoro and the tiny village of Itipo to assist with contact tracing, lab testing and coordination.
The region is so remote that the teams had to fly on United Nations planes to Mbandaka before taking helicopters to more far-flung villages. The CDC teams slept in tents in the oppressive humidity, and responders worked out of temporary facilities or community buildings that had been seconded as treatment or laboratory facilities.
“These are very rural locations where sometimes it can take a couple hours to find a contact by a single path,” Ben Dahl, who led the CDC response, said in an interview from Kinshasa.