It has been eight months since an outbreak of Ebola was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province. Since then, this outbreak has become the country’s most severe. Over 900 people have contracted the virus, and close to 600 have lost their lives.
In the midst of conflict, and in some of the most challenging conditions, Ebola responders are working round the clock to ensure people can get the information, the care and the treatment they need.
Since the start of the outbreak, WHO has deployed nearly 700 staff to DRC
These frontline heroes include medics, vaccinators, epidemiologists, logisticians, lab technicians, hygienists, communicators and others, all of whom are playing a crucial role in a complex and coordinated response.
Many of the responders have been deployed from other African countries including Guinea, who sent experienced vaccinators to help train local health workers on using this investigational vaccine.
WHO and partners are providing patient care in Ebola treatment centres across the area
In Butembo, there was an attack on the treatment center at 6am on the day I was planning to visit. Armed men shot at the centre. They killed a policeman, they wounded three workers, they left bullet holes in the windows. But they did not dampen the spirits of the health workers who work there. When I arrived at the centre five hours later, it was already reopened.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus
Timely treatment – at the earliest sign of symptoms - is key to improving a person’s chances of survival, once they have been infected with the Ebola virus.
Ebola treatment centres provide over 350 beds for Ebola patients. WHO has deployed medics and more than 300 metric tonnes of medical supplies to support patient care.
Over 88 000 people in the country have been vaccinated against Ebola
In 2015, a trial took place in Guinea and found the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine to be highly effective against the virus. Since then, it has been approved for ‘compassionate use’ in the DRC outbreak, and is being made available to those who may have been exposed to Ebola.
Vaccination is a key tool in the Ebola response. As part of these efforts, over 28 000 health workers in DRC have received the vaccine. Health and frontline workers are among those most vulnerable to infection with the virus.
Working with local groups, communities across DRC have been reached with information on Ebola
Teams on the ground are engaging communities daily. Outreach teams, made up of local staff and volunteers, have met with thousands of families in outbreak-affected areas, to raise awareness on Ebola prevention, symptoms, and how to get help if a case occurs.
This has also built support for the response efforts, even in communities where security concerns run high. The vast majority of people who are eligible have chosen to receive the vaccine. Families are also working with authorities to perform safe and dignified burials, where loved ones have – tragically - lost their lives to the virus.
Over 400 people have been treated with new investigational Ebola drugs
In the context of the current outbreak, patients are being offered new investigational therapeutics under a clinical trial being coordinated by WHO. This trial – a first ever - is an important step towards finding an effective treatment for Ebola. The patients who choose to join the study are providing information that will help us know the impact of these therapeutics on recovery.
Over 43 000 screenings have been done at national and international airports
Alongside the response in DRC itself, hundreds of health workers, border officers and other responders in neighbouring countries have been trained and prepared to respond to a potential case, should it occur.
In Uganda, over 4000 health workers have been vaccinated as a precautionary measure, as well as over 900 health workers in South Sudan.
Despite progress achieved there remain challenges
Funding for the response is still insufficient to meet the magnitude of the needs, and the complexity of the situation. Katwa and Butembo – where the majority of cases are now occurring - remain major areas of concern. Recent attacks on treatment centres by armed groups put health workers and patients at risk. Such attacks are deplorable for their immediate impact on lives and for the risk of further spreading the disease.
WHO has requested and received further support from UN and local police forces to protect the treatment centres and patients. We are also working to engage communities to strengthen ownership of the response, and will continue delivering critical work – across surveillance, disease control, communication and the many other areas - to end the outbreak. WHO is committed to improving the health of the people of DRC now and in years to come.