The Democratic Republic of the Congo's Ebola outbreak grew by three more confirmed cases today, and in a key development to support the response over the next 6 months, the World Bank said yesterday it has approved up to $80 million in grants and credits.
The World Bank support follows an urgent request request from World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, earlier this week for $148 million to support the Ebola response in the DRC. Earlier this week, the WHO said Tedros would visit the DRC, including the main epicenters of Katwa and Butembo. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the visit is still scheduled.
Tedros had warned that without help from the global community the country is at risk of backsliding in its progress to contain the disease.
Though cases over the past few weeks have shown a decreasing trend, fresh attacks on Ebola treatment centers (ETCs) in hot spots in Katwa and Butembo drove some confirmed patients into the community when they fled the violence, have led Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to evacuate ETC staff and have significantly slowed the response.
In addition, the DRC health minister said yesterday that officials expect a surge of cases in the affected areas.
World Bank outbreak support
Of the $80 million in support from the World Bank, $60 million is in grants and credits through the International Development Association, a fund for low-income countries.
Also, a $20 million grant was approved by the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF), specialty bonds that were launched in 2017 to streamline surge funding to developing countries facing pandemic threats. The financing tool was created by the World Bank along with Japan, Germany, and Australia.
According to the World Bank statement, the group approved the PEF grant within 3 days of receiving a request from the DRC government. Half will be released immediately to fund the frontline response, with the rest released within a month or sooner, as needed.
The first PEF funds were tapped in May 2018 during the DRC's previous Ebola outbreak in Equateur province.
In the statement, World Bank interim president and CEO Kristalina Georgieva said, "Our priority is to halt this outbreak of Ebola and limit the devastation it causes to families and communities. Today's commitment ensures that lifesaving work can be urgently scaled up, and that lack of funding is not a constraint."
Scrambling to care for patients
In the wake of the two ETC attacks, MSF evacuated its staff from the hot spot. And according to the health ministry, another aid group—the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA)—is pulling their staff as well over security concerns. ALIMA runs a transit center in Butembo, and Ebola patients were taken there after the attack on the on the city's MSF ETC.
However, intensive efforts are under way to use the Butembo MSF facility again as soon as possible. The health ministry said doctors, nurses, and hygienists working in the ETC and the transit center, where suspected patients await their test results, are local health workers, and despite the two attacks, many have returned to their jobs to care for Ebola patients.
The WHO's African regional office said today on its Twitter account that the Butembo ETC has been decontaminated, and teams from the WHO, UNICEF, and the DRC's health ministry are redeploying a local MSF hygienist to prepare the unit for immediate use.
For now, the only functioning patient care facility is the transit center within Katwa Reference General Hospital, according to the health ministry. With modifications, the transit center has beds for 35 patients, and 31 are currently occupied by 12 confirmed and 19 suspected patients. Efforts are under way to add 10 more beds.
All patients with confirmed infections who fled during the Butembo attack have been found and are admitted to the transit center, officials said.
In a related development, International Medical Corps (IMC) said today on its Twitter account that it is still providing training and supplies to healthcare workers and is supporting screening for Ebola symptoms in Butembo and Katwa.
Outbreak total climbs to 888
Meanwhile, in its daily update today, the DRC health ministry reported three new cases, two in Katwa and one in Mandima. Officials are also investigating 174 suspected cases. The latest confirmed cases lift the outbreak total to 888, which included 823 confirmed and 65 probable cases.
Two more people died from Ebola, both from Katwa, including one who died in the community, raising the number of deaths to 557.
Feb 28 World Bank statement
Mar 1 WHO African regional office tweet
Mar 1 IMC tweet
Mar 1 DRC update