On 8 May 2018, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared that there was a new outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Bikoro Équateur Province of the country. This came 10 months after the country was declared free from the virus last year. The outbreak was declared after health officials reported two confirmed cases after a laboratory test proved positive.
This is the second time the country is being hit by the virus since the largest Ebola Epidemic that swept almost all of West Africa between 2014 and 2016.
Currently, there is no exact date of when or how the outbreak started, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO) it started since 4 April. From then until 13 May 2018, a total of 39 Ebola virus disease cases were reported, including 19 deaths which includes three health care workers, but WHO said that work is underway to determine the beginning of this epidemic.
A statement from WHO gave details of the outbreak: “Cases were reported from the Bikoro health zone (Total number of cases = 29; two confirmed, 20 probable and 7 suspected cases), Iboko health zone (Total number of cases = 8; three probable and five suspected cases) and Wangata health zone (Total number of cases =2; two probable cases). To date, 393 contacts have been identified and are being followed-up. Wangata health zone is adjacent to the provincial port city of Mbandaka (population 1.2 million). Response teams on the ground are in the process of verifying information on reported cases. Case numbers will be revised as further information becomes available.”
DRC and U.N. agencies have begun deploying emergency teams of specialists to the affected areas in order to prevent the spread of the epidemic. WHO’s Africa director, Matshidiso Moeti, on Sunday told Reuters by telephone that WHO have also obtained 4,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine and was preparing for deployment in Congo.
The president of DRC, President Joseph Kabila also met WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Kinshasa on Sunday to discuss the epidemic.
“We’re concerned because this is a city of 1 million people,” Matshidiso said.
Officials are working fast to prevent the virus from spreading out of control, as it did from 2014 to 2016 in West Africa when Ebola killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
A brief history of Ebola outbreak in DRC
Ebola is widely believed to spread by a fruit bat, although scientists haven’t been able to confirm this information. Currently, there are five species of Ebola which are Zaire, Sudan, Taï Forest, Bundibugyo and Reston.
There have been more than 30 known Ebola outbreak cases globally since 1976. And nine of these of which – including the current outbreak – occurred in DRC. The virus was first discovered in the then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The disease got its name from the nearby Ebola River, a tributary of the Congo River. The first Ebola victim was a schoolmaster in the village of Yambuku in the north of the country.
The previous Ebola crisis didn’t spread to other parts of the country because it happened in a remote area with poor transport links. However, the current epidemic might break out wider than the previous because it is closer to the Congo river. The Congo river is a major transport route and lifeline both to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa and to neighbouring Congo Republic’s capital, Brazzaville.
Currently, the nine neighbours of Congo have been put on high alert in case Ebola crosses the border, especially to the Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic.