The Democratic Republic of the Congo declared a new Ebola outbreak after five people have died of the deadly virus disease in the city of Mbandaka in Equateur province. No one knows how the virus resurfaced during a time that travel restrictions are in place to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Less than two months ago, the DRC was on the point of declaring an official end to the Ebola epidemic that had lasted for two years and killed more than 2,000 people. Then new cases surfaced in Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri. Yet the authorities believed the outbreak was in its “final phase”.
“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face”
The Ebola cases in Mbandaka come at a time that the country is also battling measles and COVID-19. “This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization. “Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.”
WHO has sent a team to support the response to the new outbreak. Mbandaka is a busy transport hub on the Congo River, near the border with the Republic of Congo, so there is concern that the virus could spread.
The Largest Measles Outbreak in the World
In the past year, the DRC has also reported 369,520 measles cases and 6,779 deaths, according to WHO. Médecins Sans Frontières, which has teams working in various parts of the country to help with patient care, vaccination, and monitoring the spread, says all twenty-six provinces of the country have been affected by the outbreak.
Young children are dying from a disease that can be prevented through vaccination. Whereas the rising number of measles cases in the rest of the world can mostly be attributed to a reluctance to use vaccines, in the DRC it’s caused by poor access to healthcare. Dr. Xavier Crespin, chief of health for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the DRC, says a lack of investment in healthcare over the past five years, combined with vaccine shortages, high rates of malnutrition, and ongoing conflict, has created a “national crisis”. Logistical difficulties because of bad roads and long distances—the DRC is the second largest country on the continent—contribute to the problem.