KAMPALA, Uganda:— AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization operating in 43 countries, is profoundly concerned with the rise in new Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo and fear of its spread if uncontained. The August 1, 2018 outbreak is now the second deadliest in history and seems to be spiralling out of control amid insecurity in the country. This follows after the devastating 2014 outbreak which claimed over 11,000 lives in West Africa, including two of AHF’s doctors.
As of Jan 2, 2019, the total number of confirmed and probable patients is estimated to have surpassed 600, with 368 deaths and 207 people who have recovered from the illness, according to CNN.
With the epicentre of the outbreak bordering Uganda and Rwanda, there is a “high risk” of it extending, particularly due to the country experiencing insecurity issues. These factors continue to put healthcare workers at enormous risk, stifle vaccination procedures and inhibit contact tracing.
“Yesterday our teams in Beni were unable to carry out critical field work, including vaccinations, contact tracing, and following up on alerts of potential new cases. Protests at government buildings in Beni spilled over to an Ebola transit centre, frightening people waiting for Ebola test results and the staff who were caring for them. Staff at the centre temporarily withdrew, and most suspected cases were transferred to a nearby treatment centre,” according to a statement released by WHO on December 28, 2018.
Although there have been marked improvements compared to the 2014 outbreak response, the increasing number of new cases underscore the need for WHO, AU and partners, including Merck Pharmaceuticals to double their effort in the Congo. Furthermore, it is imperative that WHO declares this crisis as an International emergency and the African Union, whose silence has been deafening, must step up its leadership and keep the region and globe updated on outcomes.
“The situation in the Congo is unfortunate and reminiscent of the 2014 outbreak,” said AHF Africa Bureau Chief Dr Penninah Iutung. “More disturbing is the fact that the African Union has remained mute in the face of this unfolding crisis. What is the AU doing regarding the ongoing security challenges in the country that is disrupting Ebola control efforts and the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers?”
“We cannot allow a repeat of 2014! The Africa Centre for Disease Control must be at the centre of this epidemic control in the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping countries in the region, especially neighbouring countries, informed with updates on efforts to aid emergency preparedness should the need arise,” she added.
There is a need for accelerated and concerted efforts by the African Union, UN and the World Health Organisation to expand the provision of appropriate and adequate PPE, mobilize and deploy more health workers in the Congo, procure more Ebola vaccines, ramp up contact tracing, intervene in the ongoing security crisis and ensure the safety and security of the healthcare workers within the country and at the borders. The WHO and UN must protect the men and women working to reach and vaccinate people in remote areas, including by deploying troops, if necessary.