Confirmed Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo

On August 1st, 2018, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) confirmed an outbreak of Ebola. This outbreak occurred only a week after the government declared Ebola defeated in the Equateur province on the other side of the country.

So far, four deaths have been confirmed to have been caused by the virus, and a further 20 people are suspected to be infected. According to Peter Salama, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency response chief, the virus could either be of the Zaire, Sudan or Bundibugyo strain. This poses challenges for combatting the disease, as the vaccine used to defeat Ebola in the Equateur province only works for the Zaire strain. Additionally, research regarding the effectiveness of the initial vaccine cannot be confirmed, as despite the absence of deaths amongst those vaccinated, there wasn’t enough research to fully assess the effectiveness of the treatment. Therefore, Salama has stated that, “… the risk, as we can surmise for DRC, is high. For the regions it’s high given the proximity of borders, particularly Uganda.”

The outbreak is even more challenging due to the continued violent conflict occurring in DRC, which includes over 100 armed groups, 20 of which are incredibly active. Salama notes on this that, “There aren’t many situations that combine the fear and panic and risk of high-stress pathogens as dangerous as Ebola with having to work right on the frontlines of a conflict.”. This is ultimately causing difficulty for aid organisations to effectively combat the disease due to the risk to their personal security. Despite this, WHO has deployed 30 staff members to DRC, as well as staff from the country’s Ministry of Health and NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres.

A fundamental means of combatting the spread of Ebola in DRC and surrounding nations is through education, however, government and aid bodies are struggling to effectively communicate with the public. Aside from challenges already arising from displacement and poverty in communicating with the public, DRC is extremely linguistically diverse, with the province of North Kivu itself being home to seven different languages. Additionally, with the female literacy rate only being 66% and male being 75%, it is difficult to effectively educate the public on ways to prevent spreading the disease.

According to Dr Thomas Inglesby, from the John Hopkins Centre for Health and Security, instances such as this outbreak are likely to continue worldwide, caused by factors such as the rise of pathogens with no countermeasures, urbanisation, extensive displacement, population growth, climate change and human encroachment on animal reservoirs. Therefore, there is a need for more effective measures to death with the rapid spread of disease. However, in DRC, the fight against Ebola is likely to be slow due to the need for more funds to support research for a new vaccine and to educate the public on means to prevent the spread. But ultimately, the entire globe should be weary of such instances with Inglesby stating that in the future “serious infectious disease outbreaks are the new normal”.