Azar, Redfield among US officials heading to DRC to assess Ebola

Trip to DR Congo Ebola front lines
Trip to DR Congo Ebola front lines

World Bank, Vincent Tremeau / Flickr cc

Today Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar announced that he and a number of other top US health officials will be traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighboring countries in the coming days to gauge the Ebola outbreak in the region, the world’s second largest in history.

Azar will lead a delegation that includes Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert Redfield, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Redfield has traveled previously to the outbreak region, but this will be the first trip for Azar.

Joining the US delegation will be director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, who has made nearly monthly trips to the DRC since August 2018, when the outbreak began in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

"President Trump and Secretary Azar are committed to ending the outbreak as quickly as possible," HHS said in a news release. "That is why responding to the outbreak, coordinating with and assisting the governments responding, and providing the necessary assistance has been the top global health priority for the Trump administration since August of 2018."

While meeting with top officials from the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda, the delegation will discuss the United States's continued efforts in the region, including HHS funding of a second year of Ebola vaccine manufacturing, the deployment of CDC personnel to the DRC, and support for a clinical trial of Ebola therapeutics.

The United States has not had personnel on the ground in the DRC's outbreak area since September 2018, when staff were pulled amid growing insecurity threats. The CDC, however, has been assisting a USAID disaster assistance response team in the DRC.

New cases raise total to 3,084

According to WHO's Ebola dashboard, there are 3 new confirmed cases today, which raises the outbreak total to 3,084, including 2,070 deaths. A total of 398 suspected cases are still under investigation.

Also today, the WHO's African regional office released a new situation report on the outbreak. In the past week, officials confirmed 45 new Ebola cases and 35 deaths reported in five health zones in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces.

"While the intensity of the outbreak shows signs of easing in some areas and total case number  are decreasing, it is too soon to tell if this trend will continue. The continued risk of response efforts being slowed down or stalled by security events remains high," the WHO said. "Slight declines in case numbers have been observed previously in this outbreak and have ultimately not been an indication of a substantial decline in transmission intensity or a sign of the end of the outbreak."

Kalunguta, Beni, Mambasa, and Mandima  are the current hot spots.

In a separate weekly report, the African regional office said, "This shows a change in the order of hot spot areas, with fewer new confirmed cases in Beni and Mandima than in previous weeks, but more in Kalunguta and Mambasa."

The agency added, "The decrease in numbers of new confirmed cases in Beni and Mandima is  encouraging  and  these trends need to continue."

Late yesterday, the DRC's multisector Ebola response committee (CMRE) confirmed via Twitter that the two confirmed cases reported yesterday were from Beni and Kalunguta.

See also:

Sep 9 HHS news release

WHO Ebola dashboard

Sep 10 WHO situation report

Sep 10 WHO weekly bulletin

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