US officials end visit to DRC Ebola region; cases rise to 3,129

HHS Secretary Azar Ebola
Azar Ebola

Alex Azar, left, UN special representative Leila Zerrougui, and US Ambassador Michael Hammer address the Ebola battle., MONUSCO/Mathias Gillmann/Flickr cc

Over the weekend and through today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Ebola total grew by 19 cases, as US government officials who recently visited the outbreak area voiced their support for not only the outbreak response but also for the country's overall health system.

Over the weekend, a US government delegation, including Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, MD, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, MD, toured an Ebola treatment center in Butembo.

The officials were accompanied by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, PhD, and United Nations (UN) Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator David Gressly.

Officials share their impressions

According to an HHS press release, the group observed infection prevention and control measures, spoke to healthcare providers about patient care, and heard from Ebola responders and health workers about the challenges they face because of community mistrust and security problems in the area.

The visit also include discussions with local community leaders, including representatives from a women's association, a commerce group, and cultural groups.

Azar said in a Sep 14 statement that the US recognizes that, alongside Ebola, the DRC is also battling other diseases, including measles, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, and cholera, and he voiced strong US government commitment to ending the Ebola outbreak and working with local and community leaders. At a community meeting, Azar said, "The U.S.A. is here for you not just for Ebola, but also healthcare after Ebola."

At a media telebriefing today, Azar and other US officials, including some from the State Department, shared their impressions of the visit. Azar said after observing patient care and meeting with health workers at the Ebola treatment center, "I can't overstate the importance of the two therapeutics." The drugs are Regeneron's REGN-EB3, an antibody cocktail, and mAB114, an antibody treatment developed from a DRC patient who survived Ebola during an earlier outbreak.

Azar added that the officials witnessed patients treated with the drugs be discharged from the Ebola treatment unit upon their recoveries. "That is a radical change from where we've been," he said.

Though outbreak responders are making progress, especially with community engagement, basic public health practices such as contact tracing still aren't at levels where they need to be, Azar added.

Redfield said though cases have declined some in the past weeks, officials won't feel confident about the trend until they see key indicators change. He added that the proportion of deaths in the community is still too high and the numbers of contacts and patients isolated early are still too low.

Ahead of the visit to Butembo, senior US officials also met with DRC President Felix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa and with Jean-Jacques Muyembe, PhD, the head of the DRC's multisector Ebola response committee (CMRE), as well as the DRC's newly appointed health minister, Eteni Longondo, MD, MPH. Yesterday, the group traveled to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame and other senior officials.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has previously announced nearly $158 million in funding for the DRC Ebola outbreak, support that also helps Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda shore up their defenses against the virus.

New cases from smaller hot spots

In outbreak developments, the DRC confirmed 4 new cases today, raising the overall total to 3,129 cases, according to numbers reflected on the WHO's online Ebola dashboard. Authorities are still investigating 475 suspected cases.

Eighteen more deaths were reported over the past few days, putting that number at 2,095.

In updates on Sep 14 and yesterday, the DRC's CMRE added more details on 15 of the most recent cases. Locations reflect ongoing activity at many of the smaller hot spots. They include Mandima (6 cases), Komanda (2), Mambasa (2), Biena (1), Kalunguta (1), Katwa (1), Kayna (1), and Oicha (1).

Of 10 deaths covered by the two CMRE reports, 9 occurred in Ebola treatment centers and 1 occurred in the community in Oicha.

See also:

Sep 14 HHS press release

Sep 13 HHS press release

WHO online Ebola dashboard

Sep 14 CMRE update

Sep 15 CMRE update

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