Ebola Outbreak Grows In The Western Democratic Republic Of The Congo; Response Faces Critical Funding Shortfall
Ebola response workers in the Western DRC

Just as the nearly 2 year long Ebola outbreak that ravaged the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has drawn to a close, a new cluster of cases is growing in the Mbandaka area of Equateur province, an area in the DRCs northwest region.

Some 56 cases have been reported since the first case in the province on 1 June. More than half of the cases were reported in just the past three weeks, and the outbreak has since spread to six health zones. As of July 14th, 21 people have died, according to the WHO DRC country office.

Amidst a massive redirection of global health financing towards containing the COVID-19 pandemic, funding for containing the DRC’s eleventh Ebola outbreak is running dangerously low. WHO has mobilized US $1.75 million for the response, which is estimated to last only a few more weeks.

The United States, which was one of the largest funders of the WHO’s Ebola response in the 2014-2015 West Africa epidemic and the more recent Eastern DRC epidemic, has remained quiet on the current situation.

The Trump administration had previously supported the Ebola response in the Eastern DRC as one of its major global health priorities, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar himself meeting with DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa in September 2019. However, since Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the WHO, the administration has not made any public comment regarding the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Western DRC.

The DRC is also battling it’s own COVID-19 epidemic at the same time, with more than 8000 cases so far reported.

Since the coronavirus pandemic has gripped global attention, regular information on the most recent Ebola outbreak has been difficult to find. While the WHO DRC country office Twitter page releases regular updates on case numbers, the agency has not been releasing more comprehensive regular disease outbreak notices or situation reports. The last official WHO situation report on Ebola was dated 23 June, the day the Eastern DRC outbreak was declared over.

“Responding to Ebola in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is complex, but we must not let COVID-19 distract us from tackling other pressing health threats,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti in a press release. “The current Ebola outbreak is running into headwinds because cases are scattered across remote areas in dense rain forests. This makes for a costly response as ensuring that responders and supplies reach affected populations is extremely challenging.”

Over 12000 people have been vaccinated so far in this outbreak. Community engagement has been a pillar of the response, largely thanks to lessons learned from communities’ and responders’ experience in containing a 2018 outbreak in the province that sickened 54 people. Some 90% of vaccinators are from affected locales.

Image Credits: WHO AFRO.