The Democratic Republic of the Congo earlier this week declared the end of the Ebola outbreak that erupted less than three months ago in Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur Province in the northwest. It was the third outbreak in the province since 2018 and the country’s 14th overall.
With greater experience in Ebola control, national emergency teams, with the support from World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, mounted a swift response soon after the outbreak was declared on 23 April, rolling out key counter measures including testing, contact tracing, infection prevention and control, treatment and community engagement. Vaccination – a crucial protective measure – was launched just four days after the outbreak was declared.
In all, there were four confirmed cases and one probable case – all of whom died. In the previous outbreak in Equateur Province that lasted from June to November 2020, there were 130 confirmed cases and 55 deaths.
“Thanks to the robust response by the national authorities, this outbreak has been brought to an end swiftly with limited transmission of the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Crucial lessons have been learned from past outbreaks and they have been applied to devise and deploy an ever more effective Ebola response.”
The just ended outbreak saw a total of 2104 people vaccinated, including 302 contacts and 1307 frontline workers. To facilitate the vaccination rollout, an ultra-cold chain freezer was installed in Mbandaka which allowed for vaccine doses to be stored locally and safely and be delivered effectively.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has now recorded 14 Ebola outbreaks since 1976, six of which have occurred since 2018.
“Africa is seeing an increase in Ebola and other infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans impacting large urban areas,” said Dr Moeti. “We need to be ever more vigilant to ensure we catch cases quickly. This outbreak response shows that by bolstering preparedness, disease surveillance and swift detection, we can stay a step ahead.”
WHO supported the Democratic Republic of the Congo in implementing a strong national strategy developed early to guide response coordination; decentralizing operations to the lowest level to work closely with communities; basing the response on evidence; and regularly analysing the epidemiological risk to rapidly adjust the response.
Although the outbreak in Mbandaka has been declared over, health authorities are maintaining surveillance and are ready to respond quickly to any flare-ups. It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following an outbreak.
The disease, which affects humans and other primates, is severe and often fatal. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks. However, with the currently available effective treatment, patients have a significantly higher chance of survival if they are treated early and given supportive care.