As countries around the world grapple to control COVID-19, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is simultaneously struggling to fight the world’s largest measles outbreak and an emerging Ebola outbreak (WHO, 2020c).
This Ebola outbreak is the country’s eleventh since the first in 1976 (WHO, 2020c. The outbreak is in Équateur province (ibid). The tenth outbreak in August 2018 was only been declared over as of June 25, 2020 (Medicines Sans Frontieres, 2020). Although there is an overlap of approximately three weeks between the two outbreaks, they are located nearly 1,000 kilometers from each other with no apparent link between them (ibid). Genetic sequencing analysis indicates that the virus causing the new outbreak is distinct from that during the last outbreak (WHO, 2020a). The origin is unknown but likely to be zoonotic (WHO, 2020a).
Genetic sequencing analysis indicates that the virus causing the new outbreak is distinct from that during the last outbreak
The statistics on Ebola in the DRC are sobering. Ebola has a mortality rate of 50 to 60% (UNICEF, 2020). In the DRC, the tenth outbreak had a mortality rate of around 66% (Center for Disaster Philanthropy, 2020). Women and children made up 84% of those affected and health care workers constituted approximately 5% (ibid). Along with Ebola, COVID-19 has resulted in 3,195 cases and 72 fatalities, with the measles outbreak responsible for 369,520 cases and 6,779 recorded deaths (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020).
International and local aid organizations attempting to curb these contagious diseases are in a challenging situation. COVID-19 in particular has limited travel for WHO and other health staff in the area who are involved in vaccinations (WHO, 2020b). Mistrust of health officials and ongoing conflicts in the area are also barriers to reducing the disease’s spread, especially due to the risk to health care workers attempting to access remote areas of the outbreak (Center for Disease Philanthropy, 2020).
Mistrust of health officials and ongoing conflicts in the area are also barriers to reducing the disease’s spread
Fortunately, past outbreaks have led to the setup of health centers and transit systems that are currently functional, enabling testing and vaccinations (WHO, 2020b). Organizations such as UNICEF and Medicins San Frontieres have been deploying additional staff and supplies to help the DRC government get ahead of this outbreak. Organizations like UNICEF are providing medical supplies, running community engagement and awareness campaigns, providing psychosocial support to those affected, and working to increase water, sanitation, and hygiene availability (UNICEF, 2020).
COVID-19 has infiltrated all regions of the globe yet certain regions such as the DRC face exceptional disadvantages in tackling this pandemic. In the face of multiple threats, the DRC has been supported by international, charitable organizations. This pandemic is a reminder that vigilance, cooperation, and coordination to build an international public health infrastructure are crucial to address specific regions under siege, and to curtail the persistence of COVID-19 worldwide.
By Jessie Karlovich
A contributor and member of the Public Health Pathways team
17 July 2020
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