An outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) further threatens the civilian population who have been long tortured by conflict. Testing has shown that the outbreak of Ebola is the DRC is the Zaire strain, the deadliest strain of the disease. The disease has extremely high mortality rates and rates of contagion.
The outbreak, reported by the World Health Organization last week, has so far seen three fatalities with a further 19 people suspected of contracting the disease. There is persisting concern over the potential spread of the disease, particularly as the outbreak has occurred in a remote area with little access to health care. Already, a team has been deployed to monitor those who were close to the affected persons, and isolation centres have been established to protect the community. There have been more outbreaks of Ebola in the DRC than any other nation, however, it is suspected that this most recent outbreak is not connected with any previous occurrences.
The European Union, who previously played a significant role in the provision of aid to West Africa during the 2013-2014 outbreak has already pledged support, as have Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The World Health Organization (WHO) have also deployed a team of specialists including biologists, epidemiologists, and personnel who can assist in sanitation, and experts in the area of community engagement, risk communication and social mobilization. Kenya too has sent a team of 160 healthcare workers.
The government of the DRC has increased security around their borders to better monitor those coming and going from the nation and has requested that officials be on alert to symptoms including vomiting and fever which may indicate a case of Ebola. The affected Bas-Uele region is extremely remote and it is uncertain how the disease occurred. However, the region is near the border of the Central African Republic (CAR).
The ongoing conflict has significantly affected the provision of public services particularly due to a lack of funding, resources, and the destruction of infrastructure including hospitals and roads, which are vital to the ability to deliver effective and timely relief. Additionally, violence may pose a threat to NGO and healthcare workers who are working to contain the outbreak.
There is currently no known cure for the hemorrhagic disease although vaccination trials conducted by Gavi, the vaccine alliance, and pharmaceutical company Merck, who developed the vaccine, have been highly successful. The vaccines exist in limited quantities and have not yet been approved for general use.
It is hoped that, as we have seen in South Sudan and Syria, healthcare workers will be guaranteed a safe passage to the affected community and will be able to conduct their work free from threat.