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New DRC Ebola Outbreak Emerging in Equateur Province

JUN 01, 2020 | GRANT M. GALLAGHER
The World Health Organization (WHO) has shared reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo indicating a new outbreak of Ebola virus is occurring in the nation’s northwest region. As of June 1, there have been at least 6 cases detected in Mbandaka, a port city with a population of more than 1.2 million people.

The years-long Ebola outbreak in the eastern province of North Kivu, which borders Lake Kivu, was exacerbated by political violence. The region also faces a wide array of unmet social needs, with challenges ranging from measles to malnutrition. The North Kivu outbreak has just begun to decline in recent months, after more than 2260 deaths, though it is still considered a Public Health Emergency of International concern by the WHO.

The initial 6 cases detected in the Wangata health zone led to 4 deaths. At least 2 other patients are still in care. Authorities expect more cases to be identified as contact tracing is performed.

Mbandaka was the epicenter of the country’s 9th Ebola outbreak, which lasted from May-July 2018. And it now appears to be the site of the nation’s 11th.

“Given the proximity of this new outbreak to busy transport routes and vulnerable neighboring countries we must act quickly,” Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, WHO Regional Director for Africa said in a release.

WHO and various non-governmental organizations have a presence in Mbandaka, due to infrastructure built up in preceding pandemics. The existing team in Mbandaka aided in collection and testing of samples. There are 25 more WHO personnel slated to arrive in the city tomorrow.
In January, 2020, Contagion® featured a podcast on the “Past, Present, and Future of Ebola.”

John Johnson, project lead for Ebola vaccination with Médecins Sans Frontières, described how the Kivu outbreak compared with the response to the West African epidemic, the role of vaccination in the outbreak control strategy, and the unique challenges the epidemic in Kivu presented.

Johnson also recalled reactions to the outbreak response that he'd heard from everyday Congolese people, in order to shed a better light on tensions which are sometimes reduced to a vague “government mistrust” in public health literature.

“A lot of what we heard was: ‘you guys aren't here because we're sick. You're here because we're contagious. We've been sick for years, we've had cholera, we've had malaria, we've had malnutrition, we've had armed groups attacking us, and nobody came. And all of a sudden, there's a disease that scares you. And you come with a massive response with lots of money.’

And I think they've got a good point, we really pay so much attention to threats of global pandemics. And we've not really supported them in the last 20 years when there's been the Kivu conflict, when there's been outbreaks of different other diseases,” Johnson explained.

In the second half of the podcast, Jason Kindrachuk, PhD, of the University of Manitoba, describes on the ground experience in Liberia during the West African Ebola epidemic and his expertise in current research pertaining to lasting health effects in Ebola survivors.

Kindrachuk closed the interview by pointing to the inevitability of new Ebola outbreaks in the future. That inevitability has now come to pass.

“We are still, I think, at a learning phase with Ebola. The vaccine has been fantastic. We have a new weapon in our arsenal to combat Ebola, but the story is not over. We will continue to see outbreaks, the magnitude of those will hopefully be less than then what they would have been without the vaccine, but we still need to be vigilant and the main area of focus for that is community engagement in the regions that are most affected by the virus,” Kindrachuk said.
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