1000th Ebola Survivor Returns Home As Operational & Security Challenges Hinder Response

The 1000th Ebola survivor of the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has just celebrated her return home.

“Today, amid our unrelenting work to end this tenth outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we celebrate a bright spot, which is actually 1000 bright spots – each person who has survived an Ebola infection,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, regional director of the World Health Organization’s African Regional Office (WHO AFRO) in a statement.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti visits the DRC during the Ebola outbreak

As of 1 October, a total of 3197 Ebola cases were reported, including 3083 confirmed and 114 probable cases, of which two thirds have died from the disease. However, of the 1555 cases that were admitted to treatment centers, 1000 have survived.

Ebola survivors have been key community advocates in this response, returning to their communities after being cured to encourage other people to seek care and contacts to get vaccinated.

Despite the optimism, Moeti notes, “..we have more to learn and more to do…We must work harder to build trust and to spread the message: surviving Ebola is possible, and we are here to make that happen.”

The recent decline in Ebola cases over the past three weeks should be interpreted with caution, as operational and security challenges in Mandima and Mambasa health zones, where 55% of the new cases reported in the last week are coming from, continue to cause delays in detecting and responding to new cases.

20 new confirmed cases of Ebola from North Kivu and Ituri provinces were reported from September 25 to October 1, versus 29 from September 17 – 24 and 57 in the week prior according to the latest WHO outbreak news.

In Mambasa, where 162 contacts have been lost to follow-up, delays in involving the community and civil society response have led to community mistrust – now WHO is working with local and civil society partners in the area to engage women’s groups and enhance community-based surveillance.

In Mandima health zone, where 169 contacts have been lost to follow-up, armed conflict and low EVD awareness have led to tension between Ebola response teams and local communities and difficulties investigating community deaths, thus the true number of cases is likely underreported. It has been 17 days since a major security incident in the Lwemba area in Mandima health zone forced Ebola teams to temporarily suspend activities, which greatly limited contact tracing efforts and response activities.

The outbreak hotspots have shifted from high density, urban settings to more rural, less densely populated areas, with fewer new cases coming from Butembo, Katwa, and Beni. The shift in outbreak hotspots to more rural areas may signal changes transmission dynamics, with more community-based transmission and less transmission in healthcare facilities. However, new accessibility and logistical challenges to reach affected villages may come up, especially as the rainy season approaches.

WHO has received US$61 million to fund the response through December 2019, leaving a predicted funding shortfall of approximately US$60-80 million as of October 2nd. Additional funds have been committed or pledged, but WHO continues to appeal to donors to provide generous support.

Image Credits: WHO AFRO.