Four more Ebola cases were reported today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) outbreak, one from a newly affected health zone, as a high-level group from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) visiting the region said new steps are having an impact on the response.
Abducted responders found safe
Underscoring ongoing deep concerns about security problems in the area, the DRC's health ministry said Mai Mai rebels in a village between Beni and Butembo—the outbreak's hot spots— abducted four members of the Ebola response. The responders were later found by police to be safe, according to the health ministry's daily update yesterday.
Following a call to emergency services by the family of a person who died in the community, the responders, who included three civil protection agents and an epidemiologist, were at the home of a recently deceased patient to decontaminate the house and remove the body to prepare it for burial. After rebels abducted the responders, security coordinators sent an alert to police, who found the group safe and sound.
Top officials get firsthand look at Beni
Security problems related to armed rebel groups and pockets of community resistance have led to several setbacks in the response to the outbreak, which is just 7 cases from becoming the DRC's largest Ebola outbreak ever. Given tough challenges containing the outbreak, health officials are in the DRC this week to hear from local officials and groups and see what more can be done.
Yesterday in Beni, the DRC's Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD; North Kivu province's governor; UN Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Pierre Lacroix; and WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, were among a group who visited the emergency operations center and met with local security officials at the local town hall.
In a statement from the WHO and UN today, the groups said new measures to overcome response challenges are having a positive impact, with a decline in the rate of new cases over the past 2 weeks, though the outbreak is still dangerous and unpredictable.
MONUSCO, the UN's peacekeeping mission in the DRC, has recently taken an active approach toward armed groups operating in North Kivu, which has resulted in a recent calm period in and around Beni, though some attacks continue in surrounding villages. Since the start of the outbreak, MONUSCO has provided logistical support, office facilities, transportation, communication, and security.
Decades of conflict in North Kivu have led to misinformation and mistrust that had contributed to reluctance among some residents to allow Ebola teams to vaccinate, trace contacts, and perform safe burials.
Heightened community surveillance
The groups said that, under the leadership of the DRC's health ministry, the WHO and its partners have made greater use of community surveillance, in which community members are trained to do contact tracing in areas that are difficult for outsiders to access.
According to the statement, WHO and UN officials also met with DRC Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala to share their observations and recommendations.
As the team wrapped up its visit today, Lacroix on Twitter today praised the work of colleagues in the DRC and partner groups. But he also said that making the outbreak area safer requires a team effort. "The message delivered today is that improving security in North Kivu is everyone's responsibility: MONUSCO and the DRC armed forces. Communities must also be engaged," he said.
Lacroix said partnerships and sustained long-term efforts will defeat the armed groups.
Four new cases, newly affected health zone
The DRC today reported 4 new cases, raising the outbreak total to 312, with the number of deaths remaining at 191. One of the new cases is in Beni, two are in Kalunguta health zone, which is in an insecure area, and 1 is in Mutwanga health zone, the first in that area.
The DRC said Mutwanga health zone is near Beni and the patient who is sick with Ebola there is a known contact of a person from Beni who fled to Mutwanga after refusing vaccination and not completing follow-up monitoring. The man, considered a high-risk contact, has agreed to be transferred to an Ebola treatment center in Beni.
As of today, 40 suspected cases are still under investigation, the DRC health ministry said.
Yesterday, the DRC health ministry in its daily update fleshed out information about 3 new cases reported by the WHO yesterday: 2 were in Beni and 1 in Vuhovi, a recently affected health zone located between Beni and Butembo.
Nov 8 WHO/UN joint visit statement
Jean-Pierre Lacroix Twitter account
Nov 8 DRC update
Nov 7 DRC update