In late February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it was appealing for $40 million to continue its operation to end the Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Voice of America, the Ebola operation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces was on “financial life-support”. The WHO reported that its coffers will empty by the end of the month. Commenting on the shortage of fund, WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic said,
“Last week there was only one case reported. Therefore, we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases. But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus. Therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding.”
Thankfully, the last Ebola patient, Masika Semida, was discharged on March 2, 2020. Thus, with no more confirmed cases, a 42-day countdown to declaring the end of the world’s second-deadliest Ebola epidemic has begun. However, the last Ebola patient had contact with 46 people and they are now being monitored. WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said,
“I applaud the tireless efforts that have been made to respond to this outbreak. I’m truly encouraged by the news that the last Ebola patient has left the treatment center healthy. It is not yet the end of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We must stay vigilant in the coming weeks and beyond.”
The highlights of Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
This is the second-worst outbreak globally since the 2014 to 2016 epidemic in West Africa. However, for DR Congo, it is the tenth outbreak. The outbreak which was declared on August 1, 2018, affected 3,444 people. Also, 2,264 lost their lives while there were 1,169 survivors. This brings the overall case fatality rate to 66 percent. Reacting to the discharge of the last Ebola patient, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said,
“This is very good news. I remember how the whole world was worried about Ebola, and especially for the thousands of health workers who have sacrificed so much in the fight against Ebola.”
While the discharge of Ms. Semida was an emotional moment, there is a need to remain vigilant. Therefore, surveillance, pathogen detection, and clinical management are ongoing. The efforts include validating alerts, supporting rapid diagnostics of potential cases, monitoring the remaining contacts, and working with community members to strengthen surveillance.
The need to Sustain Vigilance in DR Congo and Neighboring Countries
The WHO is calling on donor agencies to raise $40 million to sustain its Ebola operations in West Africa. According to Jasarevic, part of the money will go towards preparedness activities in neighboring countries. He noted how WHO’s $18 million investment in Uganda to set up screening and monitoring systems was crucial in stopping Ebola from taking root in the country. A single case of Ebola is a great source of worry. This is because of the risk of further spread. According to Jasarevic,
“So, we have to really get down to zero. We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same. So, we need to make sure that activities are funded.”
For over 42 days, no new cases of Ebola has been reported in Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones. Inasmuch as the WHO terms this ‘encouraging’, it is still too early to relax. Staying on alert is the only way to ensure the West African region is not overwhelmed by future outbreaks.