The Democratic Republic of the Congo today officially declared an end to an Ebola epidemic that broke out in the east of the troubled country two years ago and went on to claim over 2,000 lives.
The outbreak was ‘the longest, most complex and deadliest’ in the 60-year history of the DRC, Health Minister Eteni Longondo said.
It has only been surpassed by the 2013-16 Ebola epidemic in West Africa that killed 11,300 people.
On June 1, as the epidemic in the east waned, a new outbreak – the DRC’s 11th since Ebola was identified in 1976 – was announced in the country’s northwest.
For an outbreak to be officially over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days, which is double the incubation period of the deadly haemorrhagic microbe.
A healthcare worker sprays a room during a funeral of Kavugho Cindi Dorcas who is suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 9, 2018. DRC Health Minister said the most recent outbreak was the deadliest and most complex in the existence of the country
A file photo of nurses caring for a suspected Ebola patient inside the Biosecure Emergency Care Unit (CUBE) at the Ebola treatment centre in Katwa, near Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, October 3, 2019
A new Ebola epidemic has been declared in the Democratic Republic of Congo on June 1, more than 620 miles away from the outbreak in the country’s east. However, the outbreak in the East, which claimed over 2,000 lives, is now officially over
The eastern outbreak was just three days from reaching the finishing line in April when a new case was reported. Further cases meant that the clock was restarted on May 14.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reacted with joy to Thursday’s announcement from the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa.
‘#Ebola outbreak in #DRC is OVER! WHO congratulates all those involved in this tough and often dangerous work to end the almost 2-year long outbreak,’ it said on Twitter.
The DRC is also struggling with the new coronavirus, with 6,411 cases including 142 fatalities, and measles, which has killed more than 6,000 people since early 2019 .
The epidemic in the east broke out in August 2018 and killed a total of 2,227 people.
It was declared by the WHO in July 2019 to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – a move that steps up international support – given the epicentre’s close proximity to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
The worst-hit area was North Kivu, a province battered by militia killings and ethnic violence.
‘Chronic insecurity’ helped make the epidemic ‘highly complex,’ Longondo said.
Eleven workers and patients were killed, including a Cameroonian doctor, the UN said.
Two experimental vaccines were brought in to help roll back the disease.
More than 320,000 people received the jab, and the success means that ‘people are demanding to have the vaccine. It makes the campaign easier,’ said Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, in charge of the anti-Ebola fight.
A mother of a child, suspected of dying from Ebola, cries near her child’s coffin in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 17, 2018. For an outbreak to be officially over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days, which is double the incubation period of the deadly haemorrhagic microbe
The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.
It has a natural reservoir in nature, which is believed to be a species of bat.
The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 per cent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.
The northwest’s outbreak, about 600 miles away from the one in the east, is focused on Mbandaka, a transport hub on the Congo River in the province of Equateur.
It has claimed 13 lives out of 24 cases, according to the WHO.
Equateur was previously hit by Ebola between May and July 2018. Thirty-three people died.
Ebola experts said the experience of the eastern outbreak would be vital for informing further action against Ebola.
One problem was an influx of wealth among health workers and their escorts in the armed forces – guards were given per-diem expenses of £240-320 per month in a country where per-income capita is around £400 a year.
The river of money created envy that militia groups readily exploited, they said.
‘Questionable practices in the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including payments to security forces, renting vehicles at inflated prices, and job kickback schemes, may have jeopardised humanitarian operations and put lives at risk,’ a specialised news site, The New Humanitarian, said in an investigation published on June 18.
An AFP reporter found that a lucrative business had developed in job appointments, with middle men creaming off commission, and some women said they had been pressed to provide sexual services in exchange for work.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
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Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.