The World Health Organization (WHO) will assist the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as it confronts a new Ebola outbreak in the northwest amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and other challenges, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.
Congolese health authorities identified six people in the city of Mbandaka, in Équateur province, five of whom have died. They were confirmed to have the disease following laboratory testing.
The announcement on Monday comes as the DRC continues to fight an Ebola outbreak in the east which is in the process of ending, although hopes were dashed last month that it would finally peter out.
“WHO will continue supporting DRC in tackling Ebola, as well as responding to COVID-19 and the world’s largest measles outbreak”, said Tedros, speaking during his latest virtual update on the global crisis.
11th Ebola outbreak
The Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka marks the DRC’s eleventh face-off with the deadly disease, which was first discovered in the country in 1976 and is now endemic.
The city also had a short outbreak from May to July 2018 in which 33 people died.
The five latest Ebola victims, who included a 15-year-old girl, died between 18 – 30 May, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported.
Their deaths were only attributed to Ebola on Sunday following confirmation.
Four other people who have contracted the virus - all of whom are contacts of the deceased - are receiving treatment.
“UNICEF is working alongside the Government of DRC and all partners in the response to the Ebola epidemic by providing essential equipment, deploying community mobilizers, providing water and sanitation services, supporting orphans and other affected children”, said Edouard Beigbeder, the agency’s Representative in the country.
“In the ongoing outbreak in Eastern DRC, more children, proportionately, are being affected than in any previous Ebola outbreak, so we must ensure that preventing infection among children is central to the response in Équateur.”
New outbreaks expected
The World Health Organization (WHO) explained that new outbreaks of Ebola are expected in the DRC given the existence of the virus in animal reservoirs in many parts of the country.
The UN agency is already on the ground in Mbandaka supporting response, while contact tracing is underway, with an additional 25 staff expected to arrive on Tuesday.
Although the new outbreak represents a challenge, WHO and its partners are up to the task, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa.
Over the past two years, they have worked to strengthen national capacity for Ebola response.
“To reinforce local leadership, WHO plans to send a team to support scaling up the response. Given the proximity of this new outbreak to busy transport routes and vulnerable neighbouring countries we must act quickly”, said Dr. Moeti.
Countdown in east underway
Meanwhile, WHO reported that the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC is in its final phases.
On May 14, authorities began a 42-day countdown to declare its end.
The outbreak began in August 2018 and has claimed more than 2,000 lives, while more than 1,000 people have survived the disease.