The current Ebola outbreak in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the worst in recorded history in the country, with 319 confirmed and probable cases. This resulted in 198 deaths, said the country's ministry of health.
Ebola virus disease, which causes an often deadly form of hemorrhagic fever, is endemic in the region. It is the 10th eruption of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1976, the year when scientists first identified the deadly virus near the eponymous Ebola River.
"No other epidemic in the world has been as complex as the one we are currently experiencing," said Health Minister. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, on Friday in a statement.
The outbreak is also the third-strongest in the recorded history of the African continent, after 28,652 cases in the 2013-2016 outbreaks in several West African countries and 425 cases in 2000 after the outbreak in Uganda. This is based on information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the total number of people reporting symptoms of haemorrhagic fever since the beginning of the country's most recent outbreak on August 1, 284 have tested positive for Ebola virus disease. According to the Ministry of Health, since August 8, nearly 28,000 people have been vaccinated in the outbreak zone.
The outbreak focused heavily on the northeastern province of North Kivu, where about half of all cases were recorded in the conflict-affected city of Beni, which has 800,000 inhabitants. People were also infected in the neighboring province of Ituri.
North Kivu and Ituri are among the most populated provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bordering on Uganda and Rwanda. They are also overrun by violence and insecurity, especially in the mineral-rich border areas where militia activity increased over the past year. All this makes the response to the outbreak more difficult.
There is also disinformation and mistrust of the population, partly because of the security situation, and some residents are reluctant to seek care, or they allow health workers to vaccinate, conduct contact tracking, and perform safe burials, according to the Department of Health.
"Since their arrival in the region, the response teams have faced threats, physical assault, repeated equipment destruction and kidnapping, and two of our Rapid Response Medical Unit colleagues were killed in an attack," the Health Minister said Friday night.
Although the outbreak remains "dangerous and unpredictable", new measures to address these challenges are "positive", said the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement on Thursday following a joint mission on the situation.
"The fact that we have prevented Ebola from spreading to neighboring countries is testament to the hard work and determination of the staff of all partners," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the statement.
The Stabilization Mission of the United Nations Organization in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has recently adopted an "active approach" to the armed groups in North Kivu, which constitute a "resting phase" in and around Beni, although some attacks continue in surrounding villages ,
"We face many complex challenges, but it is encouraging and inspiring to see that our efforts to unify as a UN have been hugely successful in many hotspots and will help end the outbreak and save lives," he said The UN Secretary General peacekeeping operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix said in the statement.
Over the past month, WHO has followed up the recommendation of an Expert Advisory Council not to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern – a proclamation that would have mobilized more resources and attracted worldwide attention.
The chairman of the committee, Robert Steffen, said he had made the decision based on three main criteria.
Is there any risk of cross-border distribution, is there any potential for international responses? " Steffen told reporters in a conference call on October 17.
Despite its conclusion, the Committee stated in a statement that the Congolese Government, WHO and its partners must "reinforce the current response" to the ongoing outbreak and that "should be supported by the entire international community", "otherwise" the situation is likely to worsen significantly. "
"I have accepted the committee's recommendation, but that does not mean that we are not taking the outbreak seriously," WHO Director-General Tedros told reporters. "We will not rest until this outbreak is over."