Semida Masika, the last patient being treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is seen after she was discharged from a hospital in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 3, 2020.
Semida Masika, the last patient being treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is seen after she was discharged from a hospital in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 3, 2020.

GENEVA - The World Health Organization urges continued vigilance to prevent flareups of the deadly Ebola virus as the epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo moves closer to being officially declared over.

The last Ebola patient was discharged from a treatment center in the northeastern town of Beni in the DRC on Tuesday. If no more cases are confirmed during two incubation periods or 42 days, the WHO will officially declare the Ebola epidemic in the country at an end on April 12.

But WHO Assistant Director-General - Emergency Response Ibrahima Soce-Fall says this is not yet a time of celebration because the outbreak is not over. He said everyone must remain vigilant as the risk of other cases emerging during that period is very high.

He said health teams must remain active and ready to respond to a number of complex threats, including those posed by insecurity in conflict-torn North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Ibrahima Soce-Fall speaks at a press conference on the WHO Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 6, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland.

 Soce-Fall said health teams must continue to work until the end of the outbreak and beyond to make sure any new flareups of the disease are detected early and controlled. He notes resources are needed to do this.

"We know that the focus now is more on the Covid-19, but we need to continue maintaining this capacity and also we still need additional $20 million for WHO to maintain the team on the ground, because we do not want to withdraw the team, because we do not have resources and to have to start from scratch because we have a new flareup,” he said.

Soce-Fall said it is very important for the global community not to lose focus on this issue because Ebola is also a matter of global health security.

Since the epidemic erupted Aug. 1, 2018, there have been 3,444 recorded cases and 2,264 deaths. It is the second-deadliest Ebola epidemic after the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, which infected nearly 29,000 people and killed more than 11,000.

Soce-Fall told VOA many of the lessons learned in tackling the Ebola epidemic are applicable for the containment of the coronavirus.     

"First you need rapid detection, meaning that the surveillance system needs to be strong.  I talked about the number of alerts we have to investigate every day for Ebola. So, this is the same approach you do for coronavirus…You need to identify people who are in contact with cases and to ensure regular follow up.  The same is happening for coronavirus for 14 days.  We have been doing that for 21 days for Ebola,” Soce-Fall said.

As the 42-day countdown continues, the WHO says the disease will not be declared over until it is sure there are no new infections and that the last reported case of Ebola has tested negative.