The number of reported Ebola cases in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has surpassed the African nation's 2018 outbreak numbers in the same region, World Health Organization officials said Thursday.
"There are now 56 cases, and this is of great concern, particularly as it is now surpassing the previous (2018) outbreak in this area, which was closed off and controlled at a total of 54 cases," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, referring to DRC's Equateur province, a large region bordering the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The challenges of responding to Ebola cases amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he added, are exacerbated by inadequate funding and rough terrain.
“The current Ebola outbreak is running into headwinds because cases are scattered across remote areas in dense rain forests," he said. "This makes for a costly response, as ensuring that responders and supplies reach affected populations is extremely challenging.”
Without ramped-up financial support for health education and community engagement, vaccinations, testing, contact tracing and treatment, the $1.75 million in WHO-mobilized funds will last only a few more weeks.
WHO also noted some improvements in outbreak response logistics since 2018. Vaccinations began four days after the latest outbreak was announced June 1, in stark contrast to the 2018 outbreak, in which officials waited over two weeks to begin vaccinations.
Of the 12,000 vaccinations carried out over the past six weeks, 90% were dispensed in local communities, and over 40,000 homes were visited by health workers — a comparatively intensified local response that health care professional had called for in the wake of prior outbreaks.
Of the 56 reported cases in the current outbreak — the central African country’s 11th — 53 are confirmed, and three are probable. Twenty-eight of them were reported in the past three weeks.
The Ebola virus, formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe and often fatal illness that spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, triggering severe vomiting and diarrhea.
A separate outbreak of Ebola in Ituri and North Kivu provinces of eastern Congo, which was declared over last month, saw 3,463 confirmed and probable cases, and 2,277 deaths over two years.
One of the world's most impoverished countries, DRC is also facing the world's largest and fastest-moving measles epidemic, with 310,000 confirmed cases and an estimated 6,000 fatalities — mostly children — since the beginning of 2019.
COVID-19 has infected more than 8,199 in the DRC and has claimed 193 lives, according to Johns Hopkins University.