Victory in Congo: 2nd Largest Ebola Epidemic Ever Extinguished with New Vaccine, Partnerships

(EnviroNews World News) — North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo — On June 25, 2020, 42 days after the last diagnosed case, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the DRC’s 10th Ebola epidemic officially over. The outbreak in North Kivu province was declared on August 1, 2018 and killed over 2,200 people — about 66 percent of the victims. The event represents the second largest incidence of the disease ever recorded.

“The outbreak took so much from all of us, especially from the people of DRC, but we came out of it with valuable lessons, and valuable tools. The world is now better-equipped to respond to Ebola. A vaccine has been licensed, and effective treatments identified,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a news release. From 2014 to 2016 in the largest outbreak ever, Ebola raged in West Africa killing over 11,000 people.

Keeping the disease contained was particularly challenging, according to WHO, because of the outbreak’s location in an active conflict zone experiencing “25 years of war and political instability,” according to Nature. Armed groups killed at least 11 patients and responders during the response to the epidemic. The coordinated efforts of the DRC government, WHO and a list of partners two pages long, resulted in the training of “thousands” of health workers, and over 303,000 people getting vaccinated – the first widespread use of a vaccine against Ebola. More than 80 percent of those who received the vaccine did not contract Ebola, and those that did ended up with milder symptoms.

“We should celebrate this moment, but we must resist complacency. Viruses do not take breaks. Ultimately, the best defense against any outbreak is investing in a stronger health system as the foundation for universal health coverage,” Ghebreyesus asserted.

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One key to success was the efforts of local politicians, according to Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, one of the discoverers of Ebola and Director of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa. Mayors and governors pushed to eliminate the disease when their areas were hit hard. After new health workers were trained, the infection rate slowed.

“We are extremely proud to have emerged victorious over an epidemic that has lasted a long time and caused a lot of damage to our population,” said Muyembe at a press conference.

Ebola wasn’t the only virus the country had to deal with either. The DRC has also felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with over 6,400 confirmed cases and 142 deaths, while also simultaneously harboring the world’s largest measles outbreak, which has killed another 6,600 people since 2019.

An 11th Ebola outbreak, as reported earlier by EnvironNews World News, is still underway in DRC in the town of Mbandaka and neighboring Bikoro Health Zone in Equateur Province, where 18 people have been infected thus far. The government is leading the response against Ebola with WHO’s support in this flare-up. Scientists believe this outbreak likely came from an animal source in the area.

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