DRC ends March with ongoing surge of Ebola cases

Ebola decontamination in DR Congo
Ebola decontamination in DR Congo

World Bank, Vincent Tremeau / Flickr cc

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) closed out March—its toughest month so far in the ongoing Ebola outbreak—with an ongoing spate of cases over the weekend: 23 in eight locations.

As the outbreak turned the page to a new month today, the World Health Organization's (WHO's) online Ebola dashboard puts the outbreak total at 1,089 cases, which likely reflect 7 more new cases.

The surge in March cases followed attacks on Ebola treatment centers in Katwa and Butembo in late February, which temporarily slowed key response activities such as case finding and contact tracing. All told, the DRC reported 194 new cases and 119 deaths in March, the busiest month of the outbreak, which began in August 2018.

In a new development, the health ministry announced on Mar 30 that the Ebola treatment center in Katwa, one of the outbreak's main hot spots, has reopened.

And yesterday people in Beni and Butembo voted in national general elections that were supposed to happen in late December but were delayed because of Ebola activity. The delay had sparked suspicion that Ebola was being used as a political tool, but voting proceeded smoothly in parts of Beni where unrest and armed militias have often been reported, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported yesterday.

People weren't eligible to vote in the presidential election, which has been decided, but there were 15 parliament seats up for voting in areas where the vote had been delyed.

Cases span range of hot spots

Of the 23 new cases reported over the weekend, 7 were Katwa, 6 were from Vuhovi, 4 in Mandima, and 2 in Beni. Four locations each had a single case: Oicha, Mambasa, Masereka, and Musienene.

The case in Mambasa, which would have been a first for that health zone in Ituri province, was reclassified as a case from Mandima after investigators found that the girl became ill there before she sought care in Mambasa where her parents live, the health ministry said in its Mar 31 update.

The newly confirmed infections lifted the overall case total to 1,082, which included 1,016 confirmed and 66 probable cases. Investigations are still under way into 279 suspected Ebola infections.

Of 16 new deaths reported over the weekend, 10 people died in community settings, which is known to increase the risk of virus spread. The community deaths occurred in Katwa, Vuhovi, Mandima, and Masereka.

Six patients died in Ebola treatment centers, four in Butembo and two in Beni. The new developments raise the outbreak's fatality count to 676.

Katwa treatment center reopens

In its Mar 30 update, the health ministry said Butembo's Ebola treatment center is full, following a mid-March wave of cases in Masereka, Katwa, and Vuhovi, which made rebuilding Katwa's Ebola treatment center a priority.

Before the center was rebuilt, however outbreak responders met with district leaders to come up with a plan to rebuild in a way that would tie in community ownership. The ministry said social anthropologists have played a key role in rebuilding the treatment center with recommendations that neighborhood leaders organize meetings to ensure transparency in recruiting local workers and asking that traditional chiefs perform rituals before cleaning and rebuilding began at the treatment center.

"It was also important to sensitize all workers and the community at large about the importance of seeing the CTE as a community property where all members of this community can entrust their patients so that the experts take care of them with respect," the ministry said.

The Katwa treatment center is now managed by the health ministry, with collaboration from the WHO and UNICEF. According to the report, it is staffed by local health workers.

See also:

Mar 30 DRC update

Mar 31 DRC update

Mar 31 AFP story

WHO online Ebola dashboard

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