Latest Ebola outbreak in DRC explained
13 June 2019
As the DR Congo Ebola crisis worsens and the number of cases reaches 2,000, here's what you need to know.
What has happened so far?
On 1 August 2018, the World Health Organisation declared an outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The number of people infected with Ebola since last August has passed 2,000, with more than 1,300 deaths, making this outbreak the second worst in history. It took 224 days to reach 1,000 cases, but only 71 days to double to 2,000.
This is the tenth Ebola outbreak officially declared in DRC and comes only nine days after an outbreak in the western part of the country, in Equateur province, was officially declared over.
Now there are growing concerns over the containment of the disease as the Ugandan authorities report the death of a five-year-old boy, and two other patients undergoing treatment.
“The fact that the DRC outbreak has exceeded 2,000 cases shows the risk of complacency,” said John Birchenough, CAFOD spokesman for Africa emergencies. “To some extent, this crisis has crept up on us. It is under-reported because it has not yet reached urban areas, but without a determined and coordinated response, there is a danger that the disease will start to spread rapidly."
How is CAFOD responding?
We are already working with local Caritas aid workers in the area and with specialists in Caritas Congo who responded to the Ebola outbreak in Equateur province. Dr Emmanuel Mbuna Badjonga is one of the specialists, and he told us that mistrust in communities is fuelling the disease.
“This is the first time we have seen this level of mistrust in the DRC, up to [4 June] we were seeing 12 new cases a day,” said Dr Badjonga. “So far we have kept the disease out of the main towns in the area, Butembo and Beni, but we can’t treat people if they refuse to accept that Ebola exists.
"The most important thing is to raise awareness of Ebola any way we can, through verbal messages, billboards, posters, on the radio and through the churches.”
Bernard Balibuno, CAFOD’s country representative in DRC, said:
“Beni is an area that has been experiencing compounding humanitarian crisis and ongoing conflicts for many years. Thousands have been forced to flee their homes and are already at increased risk of hunger and disease.
“To add an Ebola outbreak to this situation is pushing many communities to breaking point."
The priority will be to work side by side with the Church to halt the spread of the Ebola virus by raising awareness, ensuring access to clean water, as well as assisting with the safe and dignified burials of people who have died, which is critical for containing the spread of the disease.
What is Ebola?
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.
Ebola first emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and it is thought to infect humans through contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats, and forest antelope. It can then spread among humans via bodily fluids.
Currently, there is only an experimental vaccine and no known cure. The most commonly used treatment is to keep the patient hydrated, as is the case with most fevers. Patients have a better chance of survival if they are diagnosed early and receive early treatment.
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 virus has spread so extensively in West Africa is a widespread fear and lack of trust in the advice given on Ebola prevention. Many people don’t have access to reliable information, and high death rates and stigmatisation make people afraid to take their loved ones to hospitals, even if medical facilities are available.
When was the last major Ebola outbreak?
In 2015, an Ebola outbreak in West Africa claimed the lives of 11,000 people. This outbreak was so deadly as the disease had never been seen in the region before and this led to delays in identifying the nature of the problem.
During the outbreak, CAFOD worked in Sierra Leone and Liberia to raise awareness in local communities, provide safe and dignified burials and training, and distribute outbreak prevention kits.
Due to well-established partnerships, CAFOD was able to respond through the network of Church aid workers and volunteers who, at the height of the disease, were able to deliver life-saving prevention information, hygiene kits, and food to quarantined and vulnerable families.
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