Ebola virus outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo

26 May 2017

" In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of four people, in the remote province of Buta.  CAFOD's local partner Caritas Congo is working with the Ministry of Health and other local and international aid agencies in halting the spread of the Ebola disease.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of four people, in the remote province of Buta.  CAFOD's local partner Caritas Congo is working with the Ministry of Health and other local and international aid agencies in halting the spread of the Ebola disease.

What has happened?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of suspected cases of Ebola has risen to 37, in an isolated part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). And four people have died from the disease since it was officially declared on 11 May 2017. 

Father Jules Gbagbu Sapoa, the director of Caritas Buta, told CAFOD that it become eminent that is Ebola when a 39-year-old man from the village of Likati had fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding; and died on the way to a hospital in the Likati zone. The person caring for him and a motorcyclist who transported him also died.

Family members, who were involved in the cleaning of the body of the 39 year old man, fell seriously ill. 

On 11 May 2017, the DR Congo Minister of health declared the disease to be Ebola and asked for help from WHO. 

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How widely has the Ebola virus spread? 

The outbreak of the Ebola virus is currently concentrated in the Bas Uele Province in the north of the DR Congo, bordering Central African Republic. The worst hit area is in the village of Likati, in the Diocese of Buta, where the first case of Ebola was discovered. 

How many people have died from the Ebola Virus in DR Congo?

Since the disease was declared 37 cases including four deaths have been reported. 

How are CAFOD’s local partners responding?

Caritas Congo has been tasked by the DR Congo Bishops Conference to work closely with the Ministry of Health, local and international aid agencies and conduct rapid needs assessments in the affected areas.

Father Jules – director of Caritas Buta says that a well organised health education, assistance in clean water and sanitation provision, food and non-food items, are needed in the village of Likati and the surrounding areas. 

Our Country Representative for Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bernard Kateta Balinuno said: “People are frightened, they are not going about their daily work, like farming their fields and this will have long term consequences in the area. Training community health workers and volunteers is critical as many have very limited experience dealing with Ebola. And we know from CAFOD’s experiences in Sierra Leone and Liberia; that faith leaders are best placed to play the essential role of improving understanding amongst their communities, with simple health and hygiene Ebola prevention messages. Well-informed faith leaders can be the key to halting the spread of the Ebola virus.”

What are some of the challenges in fighting Ebola in this area? 

Likati village lies in a very remote area along the Likati River. There are only 20 kilometres of paved roads in that area and virtually no functional telecommunications. It is also an area that has been subject to insecurity and displacement; ongoing conflicts in South Sudan and Central African Republic, has driven people to flee into neighbouring DR Congo.

Access to clean water was problematic in the area before the outbreak of the Ebola virus. Father Jules (director of Caritas Buta) told CAFOD that many people are leaving the village of Likati to travel to neighbouring villages, and this may spread the disease further. 

How are the World Health Organisation and the Congolese government responding to this Ebola outbreak? 

On 10 May 2017, a multi-disciplinary team led by the Congolese Ministry of Health and supported by WHO were deployed to the field to conduct an in-depth field investigation, which is currently ongoing. The WHO Country Office is working closely with the national and provincial authorities, with their teams of epidemiologists and biologists. 

What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus disease is a severe acute viral illness often characterised by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

People who are infected with the Ebola virus on average have only a 30 per cent chance of survival - in many cases less, given the low levels of health services available in the rural areas of DR Congo. 

How is Ebola transmitted?

The virus is transmitted between humans via bodily fluids, and via surfaces that a sick person has come into contact with – for example, bed sheets or shared towels. Even funeral ceremonies for Ebola victims can cause risks, if mourners have direct contact with the bodies of infected people.

By following a few important procedures, the spread of Ebola can usually be stopped relatively easily. Patients need to be kept in isolation, and their nurses or visitors must wear protective suits or avoid coming into direct contact with them.

One reason that the Ebola virus spread so extensively in West Africa between 2014 and 2015, was because many people didn’t have access to reliable information.

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