By: Kyle Martin
Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
There is a new outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) in the western Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As of June 2, 2020, this outbreak has infected 8 individuals (3 probable, 3 confirmed, and 2 suspected) and of these 8 individuals, 4 have died .
The index case was a 27-year-old female who died in Wangata hospital on May 18, 2020. Shortly after, 3 more individuals from the same community (Air Congo Quarter) fell ill and died, with the last death on May 30, 2020. A post-mortem swab specimen confirmed EVD was obtained from only one of the 4 case-patients. On May 31, 2020, a healthcare worker who helped treat the initial 4 EVD patients fell ill, along with his wife. Both have been confirmed to have EVD via blood specimen and are currently in quarantine at Wangata hospital. There are two more individuals with suspected infection, one being a child of a fatal case-patient .
The outbreak is occurring in the capital city of Mbandaka, a major travel and trade hub for the region. Officials fear that due to this location, the outbreak can grow quickly if appropriate steps are not taken by the community .
The DRC Ministry of Health (MOH), in tandem with the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), are working rapidly to organize an appropriate and effective response to this new EVD outbreak. As of May 31, 2020, key response activities have begun, including contact tracing for all known cases, assessing the preparedness of the lab in Mbandaka where specimen testing occurs, and gathering necessary supplies for community vaccination efforts.
According to the WHO risk assessment, the community at most at-risk is populated with poor and vulnerable individuals who are known to be reluctant to social mobilization. This can pose significant barriers to the ongoing prevention campaign, namely for contact tracing and community vaccinations drives .
This new EVD outbreak marks the 11th outbreak of the disease in the DRC since 1976. Currently, there has been an ongoing outbreak of EVD that started in August 2018 in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri. As of May 31, 2020, EVD has infected 3,343 individuals (3,317 confirmed, 146 probable), killing 2,280 of them in these 3 regions. There have been no new cases in these provinces for at least 21 days, and thus the WHO hopes to soon declare this outbreak over if no further cases arise . The two outbreaks, the one in eastern provinces and the one in the western, are not considered to be related to one another, as there have been no noted community interaction between the two regions. Officials are warning EVD is still present in animal reservoirs in the western region, and therefore there is on ongoing threat of reemergence in humans .
According to WHO, the DRC is simultaneously battling the world’s largest and most severe measles outbreak ever . Since the start of 2019, measles has infected more than 341,000 individuals and killed more than 6,400. The mortality rate is thought to be up to 4 to 5 times higher than this, but due to weakened health structures in many communities, confirmed deaths are vastly under reported .
The public health response is further complicated by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected 3,325 and killed 71 in the DRC . Due to COVID-19, the WHO and MOH in the DRC lack both adequate funds and personnel to provide a large-scale response to an EVD outbreak if this current one becomes uncontained .
- World Health Organization. (2020). Ebola Virus Disease: Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/332254/SITREP_EVD_DRC_20200606-eng.pdf
- Schnirring, L. (2020, June 2). New DRC Ebola outbreak grows to 8 cases, 4 fatal. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/06/new-drc-ebola-outbreak-grows-8-cases-4-fatal
- Mole, B. (2020, June 1). New Ebola outbreak flares up as measles, COVID-19 rage in DRC. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/06/new-ebola-outbreak-flares-up-as-measles-covid-19-rage-in-drc/
- World Health Organization. (2020, June 3). Ebola virus disease – Democratic Republic of the Congo. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.who.int/csr/don/03-June-2020-ebola-drc/en/
- World Health Organization. (2019, December 6). Measles: fighting a global resurgence. Retrieved June 4, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/measles-fighting-a-global-resurgence
- Murray, L. (2020, April 7). Measles: In Ebola’s shadow, a quiet killer is on a rampage in DRC. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/measles-ebola-shadow-quiet-killer-rampage-drc-200406164502568.html
- World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus Disease Situation Report. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200603-covid-19-sitrep-135.pdf?sfvrsn=39972feb_2