According to the World Health Organization's Ebola dashboard, officials today recorded 12 new Ebola cases in the ongoing outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The cases bring the outbreak's total to 980 cases, including 606 deaths.
The new cases have brought to an end the downward trend mentioned last week in a press conference held by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD. In mid-March, DRC officials were seeing 25 cases per week, half the number of cases seen in mid-January.
But in the past 5 days, the DRC has recorded 44 cases and several community deaths, which increase the probability of the virus spreading among family members and close contacts.
On Twitter, WHO director of the health emergencies program Mike Ryan. MD, said the increase is likely due, in part, to the security challenges. After violence on Mar 14 in Biena, outbreak response and disease surveillance activities were once again halted.
UNICEF notes decline in pediatric cases
A new situation report published by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) shows some positive developments in the outbreak.
Only 7 of 21 affected health zones have reported cases in the past 21 days, which shows that the disease is limited geographically and has remained contained in the DRC.
Most encouragingly, cases among children—especially those under the age of 5—are dropping.
"While children and women used to be disproportionately affected by the outbreak, the representation of EVD-infected women, men, and children has become more balanced in the past two months," UNICEF said.
In January, half of all new pediatric cases were in children under 5, but that percentage is now 15%. The percentage of cases in women has also dropped, from 62% in December, to 54% in March.
The drop in infections in women and children may coincide with the epicenter of the outbreak moving from Beni to Katwa and Butembo.
UNICEF also said a knowledge, attitudes, and practices study and socio-anthropological survey conducted in Kyondo, Masereka and Musienene health zones in the first week of March showed that only 22 of participants in Kyondo and 26% in Musienene knew Ebola prevention methods.
The gap between community members and outbreak workers was the focus of statements made today by Elhadj As Sy, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) after a 3 day visit to the DRC.
"Communities are key to ending Ebola," he said. "Only with their engagement and active participation will we be able to stop this outbreak. Fear, resistance and even denial are often encountered when people are overwhelmed by shocks, hazards and epidemics; but they can be overcome building on community norms, values and social capital."
WHO Ebola dashboard
Mike Ryan Twitter feed
Mar 17 UNICEF report
Mar 20 IFRC news release