The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) officially declared, Wednesday, November 18, the end of the eleventh Ebola epidemic in its history, marked by the concomitant health emergencies, the use of vaccines and the fight against corruption.
“I am happy to solemnly declare the end of the eleventh outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the province of Equateur [nord-ouest] », said the Minister of Health, Eteni Longondo, in front of the press. The minister made the announcement at the end of the usual health period of 42 days, twice the incubation period, after the last cured patient tested definitively negative. In total, the epidemic has killed 55 people for 130 cases (119 confirmed, 11 probable), according to the World Health Organization (WHO), whose director general congratulated the DRC. She declared herself on 1is June, when the DRC had taken restrictive measures (since lifted) in the face of Covid-19.
In a statement, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, United States, called “Great success” curbing an Ebola epidemic in parallel with the fight against Covid-19, which has relatively spared the DRC (11,918 cases including 323 deaths since March). At 1is June, the DRC even managed two Ebola crises at the same time. Indeed, in the east of the country, the tenth Ebola epidemic did not end until June 25. Declared on 1is August 2018, it killed more than 2,200 people, the most serious in the country’s history.
More than 40,000 people vaccinated
The eleventh Ebola epidemic affected large areas without road access, in forests, along the Congo River or its tributaries, with risks of spread to neighboring Congo-Brazzaville and other provinces. As in the east, vaccination has been widely used – on “More than 40,580 people”, said the WHO. The vaccine used was rVSV-ZEBOV-GP, from the American group Merck Sharp & Dohme.
Drawing lessons from the past, the DRC and its donors have tried to fight against corrupt practices that have parasitized the fight against the great Ebola crisis in the east. But old practices have resurfaced: “Some health sector officials have inflated the list of providers. It took us a while to sort out these issues, explains Minister Eteni Longondo. This is why we did not pay people on time and this led to strikes. “ The response to the epidemic was therefore longer than expected: “At first, I thought it would take two, three months”, more “It took five to six months”.
“We have seen that the Congolese people are fed up with corrupt practices”, wrote the ambassadors of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, returning in mid-September from a field mission with the Congolese epidemiologist Jean-Jacques Muyembe. « A Mbandaka [capitale de l’Equateur], there were over 4,000 staff assigned to the Ebola response, compared to just 120 cases. Why 4,000 people? “, asked the Canadian ambassador. These three countries claim to give a total of around 850 million dollars in humanitarian or health aid per year to the DRC, which has thanked the international community for its logistical support.
The risk of resurgence remains “high”
Present in the field, the NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF) also claims to have learned the lessons of the previous epidemic for treatment and prevention: “Closer, more flexible, the medical teams engage the community and train the nursing staff. “ But beyond this emergency aid, voices have been raised to denounce the lack of long-term investment in the very fragile public health system in the DRC. “I call on the Congolese authorities and donors to continue their commitment to strengthening the health system”, said the UN humanitarian coordinator in the DRC, David McLachlan-Karr.
“The high risk of a resurgence remains permanent and must serve as a warning signal for the vigilance system to be reinforced”, warned the Minister of Health. Identified in 1976 by Peter Piot and an international team, the Ebola virus is transmitted to humans by infected animals. Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms of fever, vomiting, bleeding, diarrhea. Since the great 2013-2016 epidemic in West Africa (11,000 deaths), with a few cases reaching the West, the WHO fears each outbreak of Ebola a spread of the virus in the world. The UN agency had also elevated the previous epidemic in the east to the rank of international health emergency.