Many of us woke up to the news of an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) have situation reports on the current outbreak dating back to August 2018, so why is it news now?
Like most people I first heard about Ebola in 2014 during the West African Ebola Virus Epidemic. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola was the biggest in history with over 28,000 reported cases claiming 11,000 lives. The current outbreak of the virus is on a much smaller scale but the ongoing political condition in the DRC is making attempts at containing the outbreak difficult.
The Ebola virus is known to attack the human immune and vascular systems, which can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms of Ebola Virus Disease are: fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea. As a result of their weakened immune system, those infected are left unable to fight off the Ebola infection by their increasingly poor bodies. Statistics on the WHO website state that 50% of Ebola cases result in death, although this can vary from situation to situation. The Ebola virus is transmitted through close and direct physical contact with bodily fluids of an infected person consequently the virus can spread quickly to family and friends. To make matters worse, it may take up to 21 days for a person to show symptoms therefore once an outbreak occurs things can get out of hand very quickly.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a complex political and social climate arising from recent civil wars, the last of which officially ended in 2003. There is a general mistrust of government officials amongst the people of the DRC who have endured through decades of political chaos and unrest. In the east of the country, where the Ebola outbreak is currently happening, there is little government presence and there is an ongoing conflict between the military and militia groups. The United Nations have called for a 6-9 month ceasefire in the eastern regions of the Congo in order to help tackle the spread of Ebola. Despite this, there are reports stating that treatment centres are being attacked by local militia groups which make it more dangerous for health workers treating patients. There is local distrust of foreign health organisations such as MSF and the WHO, some people believe this is a conspiracy by the government to make money from foreign officials. The recent cancellation of elections fuels the divide between the community and officials, hence the outbreak is occurring against a backdrop of social turmoil.
In spite of all efforts to contain the outbreak, Ebola is spreading faster now than it has been in the past 8 months. It is now feared that it may spread to neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda. But Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, the Director-General of WHO has issued statements reminding leaders both in the region and internationally that we have overcome Ebola outbreaks in the past by pooling resources. Community outreach is vital in controlling the spread of Ebola. Educating locals on how best to deal with possible cases of infection by working with medical organisations to improve social outreach must be a priority if we aim to contain the virus. It took a global effort to end the 2014 outbreak with Obama leading a worldwide collaboration to tackle the disease; but it is not enough to start paying attention once we are in danger of contracting the virus. Although BREXIT is dominating discussions here in the UK, I hope we can make helping the people of the DRC a priority before the virus spreads to areas outside the eastern regions.
Resources on Ebola and how to help:
WHO (everything you need to know about Ebola and the DRC): https://www.who.int/ebola/en/
MSF (health responses and donations): https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/ebola-outbreak-drc
Information about the DRC: