Amid a global pandemic, a glimmer of hope: The Democratic Republic of Congo has officially beaten its tenth Ebola outbreak, which raged for two years in the nation’s volatile east. As top international health officials welcomed the news, they noted lessons learned in the Ebola battle that can be used to fight the coronavirus, which they say is surging on the continent.
The tenth Ebola outbreak in The Democratic Republic of Congo has ended after two years and the 2,300 deaths in the country’s east, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced Thursday.
“Today is a joyous occasion. I'm delighted to celebrate the end of the Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. ... The Ebola response was a victory for science. The rapid rollout of a highly effective vaccine saved lives and slowed the spread of Ebola. For the first time, the world now has a licensed Ebola vaccine and effective treatments were identified that dramatically lower death rates when patients are treated early.”
But, he and other experts noted, other threats menace that country, and the African continent.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, noted that as this epidemic has ended, the coronavirus pandemic is growing in Africa. Congo has more than 6,000 coronavirus cases. The continent’s coronavirus epicenter, South Africa, this week surged past 100,000 cases.
And, Moeti noted, Congo still has an Ebola outbreak, just in a different place; and other diseases are also menacing the population.
“The new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, in Equateur province, in the DRC; along with measles outbreaks in the Central African Republic, in Chad, in the DRC as well, in South Sudan and other countries; and an increase in malaria in some countries in Southern Africa compared to last year; are all reminders of the need to ensure continuity of essential health services for other life-threatening conditions while at the same time fighting Covid-19," said Moeti.
She noted there are now more than 332,000 COVID-19 cases on the African continent and 8,700 people have lost their lives.
But, she added, this difficult path has been paved with important lessons that could be applied to the new pandemic.
“One of the most important lessons that have been learned is the need to engage with, work with, enable communities to be knowledgeable, to be empowered, to play their role in different ways. I think that was one of the most important lessons to come out of the Ebola outbreak and it's extremely relevant for the Covid-19," said Moeti.
"Secondly, we've learned great lessons about how to innovate in the middle of a pandemic, how to learn, how to develop new technologies. The professor referred to the fact that at the same time as the response was going on there was work to discover new therapeutics, a new vaccine. ... And then thirdly, we have seen the importance of the resilience of health systems. So one of the lessons that I take away is that we must invest in health systems when we do not have outbreaks going on,” she added.
Moeti said that if Ebola can end, there is hope that other infectious diseases can also be vanquished. But, she stressed, the most important players are ordinary people. She urged everyone, in Africa and beyond: wear a mask, wash your hands, and take care.