New funding pledges boost DRC Ebola response

A major infusion of financial support for Ebola response—to the tune of more than $25 million—has come from the World Bank, the United States, and Germany to support the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where two more cases were reported.

The DRC health ministry and the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that the Ebola total has grown to 51 cases as of May 20, reflecting an increase of 2 from yesterday. The number includes 28 confirmed cases, along with 21 probable and 2 suspected cases.

Peter Salama, MD, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, said on Twitter today that officials are concerned about disease activity in Iboko, where access remains difficult.

Rumors, superstitions hamper response

In an epidemiologic update yesterday, the DRC's health ministry said Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, PhD, MBA, in an address at the launch of the Ebola vaccination campaign yesterday, addressed rumors about vaccination and the disease circulating in Mbandaka, Bikoro, and Iboko, the three Ebola hot spots. He urged community members to invest in the response in the name of love for the community by taking hygiene measures and participating in voluntary vaccination, if necessary.

He said that, over the next 5 days, about 100 people will be vaccinated, including 70 health workers. And he noted that the first person to be vaccinated was the director of the country's expanded immunization program, which Kalenga said sends a message to reassure the public about the safety of the vaccine.

Health responders in the DRC are grappling with superstitions among some residents in the outbreak area, including that Ebola is a curse on those who ate stolen meat or that Ebola is incurable, because it involves witchcraft, Agence-France Presse (AFP) reported today, based on interviews with health workers and community members. Also, the report said some community members are turning to churches and pastors for help rather than medical clinics.

Outbreak responders faced similar challenges in West Africa's outbreak, and the WHO has said anthropology experts to help navigate local beliefs and customs were among the first wave of experts to arrive in the DRC outbreak location.

World Bank announces $12 million grant

Following an emergency meeting today, the World Bank announced a $12 million grant toward the Ebola response surge in the DRC, marking the first use of its Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), the group said in a statement today.

The PEF is an innovative funding mechanism set up by the World Bank in the wake of West Africa's Ebola outbreak and is designed to protect 77 of the poorest nations against pandemic threats. With Japan, Germany, the WHO, and private sector partners, the PEP has been operating since 2017 and includes both a cash and an insurance component.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, MD, PhD, said, "It shows that we have learned some of the stark lessons of the deadly 2014 Ebola outbreak and are well on our way to stopping the cycle of panic and neglect."

Kalenga added that the PEF grant commitment allows the government to focus on responding to Ebola rather than raising funds.

In its announcement today, the World Bank said it would reallocate its $15 million investment in disease surveillance in the DRC—originally to be spread out over the next 3 years—to the current response plan, bringing total commitments to the Ebola response to $27 million.

Funding support from US, Germany

The WHO has said $26 million is needed to fund the response over the next 3 months, and international support is slowly but steadily growing. The United Kingdom and Canada have already announced pledges.

In an address to the WHA today, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar commended the DRC for its vigorous response to the outbreak. "Today, on behalf of President Trump, I am pleased to announce that the United States is prepared to provide up to $7 million in additional assistance to respond to the Ebola outbreak."

He said the pledge complements the work of Americans technical deployed to the DRC and an earlier $1 million announced by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) last week.

"I urge all member states to contribute to WHO's flash appeal to ensure we defeat this outbreak," Azar said.

On Twitter today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, thanked the president and US government for its support of up to $8 million and thanked Azar for his contribution to global health and health security.

Yesterday, Germany's health minister Jens Spahn at the WHA announced €5 million ($5.9 million) for short-term emergency aid.

In a statement on the ministry's website, Spahn said, "We take the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo seriously. We absolutely must prevent the disease from spreading further."

On Twitter yesterday, Tedros thanked Germany for its invaluable support and said that it would help the WHO continue its response in the DRC.

See also:

Peter Salama Twitter feed

May 21 DRC health ministry epidemiologic report

May 22 AFP story

May 22 World Bank press release

May 22 text of Azar WHA remarks

May 18 USAID announcement

May 21 German health ministry statement

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