It its latest weekly Ebola assessment, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Ebola cases have dipped slightly in the past weeks, but it warned that the decline should be interpreted with extreme caution, due to the complex environment and fragile security situation.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) health ministry yesterday reported 6 more cases, pushing the outbreak total to 1,926 cases.
Encouraging glimmers or ongoing fluctuations?
Part of the decline reflects fewer cases in Katwa, which has been the main Ebola epicenter over the past several weeks. At the same time, smaller hot spots such as Mabalako, Kalunguta, and Mandima are experiencing rising cases. For example, the WHO notes that Mabalako has reported 23% of newly confirmed cases over the past 3 weeks.
Aside from a drop in cases, the WHO said in its latest situation report that it sees other encouraging signs, including lower proportions of nosocomial (healthcare-related) infections and community deaths. Also, it said outbreak responders are reporting higher proportions of contacts registering when cases are detected.
It said, however, that weekly fluctuations in the indicators that health officials track have been reported in the past, and it's still not clear if the surveillance system has the ability to identify all new cases in areas with ongoing security problems.
"Operations are still regularly hampered by security issues, and the risk of national and regional spread remains very high," the WHO said.
New cases in 3 hot spots
In a daily update yesterday, the DRC's health ministry said the 6 new cases include 2 in Katwa, 2 in Butembo, and 2 in Mabalako.
The latest illnesses lift the outbreak total to 1,926 cases, which includes 1,832 confirmed and 94 probable infections. Health officials are still investigating 383 suspected cases.
Six more people died from Ebola, one of them a patient who died in a community setting in Katwa and five who died in Ebola treatment centers, including three in Butembo and two in Mabalako. Deaths now total 1,287.
In other outbreak region developments, health workers in Mabalako went on a 1-day strike on May 27 over claims that they weren't paid their bonuses in August and December. The ministry said there appears to have been a mix-up with nongovernmental organizations that were involved in managing the Mabalako treatment center and, adding that it's important to clarify transfer procedures when an agency leaves a health zone.
Officials note that discussion are still under way with the Mabalako sub-coordination office to assess the merits of the health workers' claims.
May 28 WHO Ebola situation report
May 28 DRC Ebola update