The latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu Province that began in October, is officially over, national health authorities announced this Thursday.
The end of the outbreak, the second in 2021, was declared after no new cases were reported at the end of 42 days, the equivalent of two incubation periods since the last confirmed case was discharged.
In total, 11 cases, including six deaths, were reported since the first case was confirmed in Beni in the beginning of October.
This was the country’s 13th outbreak – the disease is endemic in DRC – and occurred in the same area as the major 2018 outbreak, which ground on for two years.
In total, more than 1,800 people were vaccinated in a campaign that kicked off just five days after the first case was detected.
The outbreak marks the first time that the ERVEBO vaccine, that was licensed recently, was used in the country.
For the Regional Director for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), Matshidiso Moeti, “stronger disease surveillance, community engagement, targeted vaccination and prompt response are making for more effective Ebola containment in the region.”
Ms. Moeti also said that, during this outbreak, the country was able to limit infections and save lives. “Crucial lessons are being learned and applied with every outbreak experience”, she said.
In support, WHO deployed experts and supplies, and contributed funds to help contain the outbreak.
The response included measures such as contact tracing, testing, disease surveillance as well as community collaboration efforts.
The agency notes that “unpredictable and sometimes volatile security” hampered the response in some localities, with health workers and other responders unable to reach insecure areas to monitor contacts or administer vaccines.
The prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation during the outbreak, was a core pillar of the response, said WHO.
An expert was deployed to train WHO personnel and partners, and every person in field work received training and each partner agency was obliged to sign up to a code of conduct, to avoid exploitation.
Trainers worked directly with community members to raise awareness of sexual exploitation and abuse and how to report it safely. Radio announcements and pamphlets in local languages also helped spread the zero-tolerance message.
With the end of the outbreak, the health authorities are maintaining surveillance and are ready to respond quickly to any flare-ups. According to WHO, it is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak.
In fact, results from genome sequencing, conducted by the country’s National Institute of Biomedical Research, found that the first case likely represented a residual case from the 2018–2020 Ebola outbreak.
The country has set up an Ebola Survivor Programme, which currently includes more than 1,100 people from previous outbreaks in North Kivu Province.
Two survivors from the outbreak that just ended have been enrolled in the programme. For the next 18 months they will receive monthly check-ups, which include medical evaluations, psychological and nutritional support.