Today marks the end of the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This long, complex and difficult outbreak has been overcome due to the leadership and commitment of the Government of the DRC, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), a multitude of partners, donors, and above all, the efforts of the communities affected by the virus.
WHO congratulates all those involved in the arduous and often dangerous work required to end the outbreak, but stresses the need for vigilance. Continuing to support survivors and maintaining strong surveillance and response systems in order to contain potential flare-ups is critical in the months to come.
“The outbreak took so much from all of us, especially from the people of DRC, but we came out of it with valuable lessons and valuable tools. The world is now better-equipped to respond to Ebola. A vaccine has been licensed, and effective treatments identified,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We should celebrate this moment, but we must resist complacency. Viruses do not take breaks. Ultimately, the best defence against any outbreak is investing in a stronger health system as the foundation for universal health coverage.”
The outbreak, declared in North Kivu on 1 August 2018, was the second-largest in the world and was particularly challenging as it took place an active conflict zone. There were 3470 cases, 2287 deaths and 1171 survivors.
Led by the DRC Government and the Ministry of Health and supported by WHO and partners, the more than 22-month-long response involved training thousands of health workers, registering 250 000 contacts, testing 220 000 samples, providing patients with equitable access to advanced therapeutics, vaccinating over 303 000 people with the highly effective rVSV-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, and offering care for all survivors after their recovery.
The response was bolstered by the engagement and leadership of the affected communities. Thanks to their efforts, this outbreak did not spread globally. More than 16 000 local frontline responders worked alongside the more than 1500 people deployed by WHO. Support from donors was essential, as was the work of UN partner agencies, national and international NGOs, research networks, and partners deployed through the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. Hard work to build up preparedness capacities in neighbouring countries also limited the risk of the outbreak expanding.
Work will continue to build on the gains made in this response to address other health challenges, including measles and COVID-19.
“During the almost two years we fought the Ebola virus, WHO and partners helped strengthen the capacity of local health authorities to manage outbreaks,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The DRC is now better, smarter and faster at responding to Ebola and this is an enduring legacy which is supporting the response to COVID-19 and other outbreaks.”
As countries around the world face the COVID-19 pandemic, the DRC Ebola response provides valuable lessons. Many of the public health measures that have been successful in stopping Ebola are the same measures that are now essential for stopping COVID-19: finding, isolating, testing, and caring for every case and relentless contact tracing.
In DRC, community workers were provided with training and a smartphone data collection app that enabled them to track contacts and report in real-time rather than fill in laborious paper reports. Even when violence locked down cities, the community workers, many of them local women, continued to track and trace contacts using the application, something that was crucial for ending this outbreak.
While this 10th outbreak in DRC has ended, the fight against Ebola continues. On 1 June 2020, seven cases of Ebola were reported in Mbandaka city and neighbouring Bikoro Health Zone in Equateur Province and an 11th outbreak was declared. WHO is supporting the government-led response with more than 50 staff already deployed and more than 5000 vaccinations already administered.
WHO salutes the thousands of heroic responders who fought one of the world’s most dangerous viruses in one of the world’s most unstable regions. Some health workers, including WHO experts, paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives to the Ebola response.