The World Health Organization has officially declared an end to the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo’s Equateur Province, nearly six months after the first cases were reported.
Health officials are hailing the end of this outbreak as a milestone and cause for celebration. Combating Ebola in the remote, heavily forested region posed numerous logistical challenges, not least of which was reaching communities scattered across this geographically vast area and then gaining their trust.
Bob Ghosn is head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Ebola Response Operation in the DRC Speaking on a telephone line from Goma, he tells VOA tackling Ebola in itself is difficult enough. But tackling two epidemics, Ebola and COVID-19, at the same time has proven to be a nightmare.
“It also made the supply chain for Ebola response much more difficult because everything slowed down, borders have closed," Ghosn said. "There obviously were requests from all countries in the world for PPE equipment that was needed here. So, that made things more difficult and last, but not least, the economic impact of COVID-19 is mind boggling in a country like DRC.”
This was the third Ebola outbreak in DRC in the last three years. It came just as another more serious epidemic in North Kivu province was winding down. That epidemic, which lasted nearly two years, infected more than 3,400 people, killing nearly 2,300. By comparison, the final toll in Equateur Province was 119 cases, including 55 deaths.
Ghosn says everyone in the affected areas is happy to be free of Ebola. At the same time, he says this is no time for complacency.
“Ebola could start again. So, it is very important to keep it at zero," Ghosn said. "So, we got it at zero. Now keeping it at zero requires a lot of work. And, also to make sure that communities in DRC who really suffered through the whole Ebola outbreak and COVID-19 obviously, continue to get the support and the help they need because these are the most vulnerable communities in the world for that matter.”
Ghosn says outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and COVID-19 cannot be prevented. However, much can be done to be prepared to tackle these threats when they arise.
He says medical tools such as vaccines and treatments are important. He says informing people ahead of time on how to protect themselves from epidemic-prone diseases is a necessity.