WHO chief says much larger Ebola outbreak averted

Tedros in DRC
Tedros in DRC

MONUSCO, Alain Coulibaly / Flickr cc

Today World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, in a press conference on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), said, "We have averted a much larger outbreak, and we will not leave when the outbreak ends."

Tedros, who goes by his first name, said, "We will stay and work with communities and government to stay and provide services for all health needs. This is what the community is asking for."

The press conference came on the heels of Tedros's visit to the DRC last week with Robert Redfield, MD the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It also comes on a day DRC officials added 5 new cases to the outbreak total and reported new acts of violence.

Community acceptance amid violence

At the start of the visit, Tedros said he spoke with health workers in Butembo who were targeted by violence. Their commitment to staying and fighting the outbreak gave him hope that the people on the ground in the DRC will be able to end the outbreak, and he confirmed that security is the number one challenge facing health workers in the DRC.

Throughout the press conference, Tedros said the acts of violence and resistance are not coming from the community, but rather are being inflicted upon the community by rebel forces, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and Mai Mai.

"We see more community cooperation and increasing acceptance," Tedros said; "87% of families agree to safe and dignified burials, and over 90% of people have accepted vaccination."

What the community has asked of the WHO, Tedros said, is support in building a health system after Ebola transmission ends. He pledged as much, saying, "Leaving the area is not an option, evacuation is not an option" for the WHO.

Half as many cases as in January

In contrast to recent remarks from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) International President Joanne Liu, MD, who said the strategies being used in the DRC were not adequate to end the outbreak, Tedros described signs the virus was on the retreat in DRC.

"There's half as many new cases per week now as there were in January," he said. January saw an average of 50 cases per week, which is now down to 25 cases per week.

Additionally, Tedros said the outbreak has been contained in 11 of 28 communities that have reported Ebola.

Five more cases, new attack

Today the DRC's ministry of health recorded five new Ebola cases, three in Mandima and one each in Kalunguta and Lubero. Three deaths were also recorded, including a community death in Mandima.

The cases bring the outbreak totals to 932, including 587 deaths. A total of 210 suspected cases are under investigation. 

Also today, both the DRC and Tedros mentioned a new attack in Biena. A mob attacked Biena's General Reference Hospital and a local transit center, and all outbreak activities are stopped for at least today, the DRC said.

Finally the DRC updated its vaccination campaign totals: 87,985 people have been vaccinated since August with Merck's rVSV-ZEBOV, including 22,336 in Katwa, 20,849 in Beni, and 10,939 in Butembo.

See also:

WHO Ebola outbreak page

Mar 14 DRC report

Mar 7 CIDRAP News story "MSF warns of DRC Ebola response losing upper hand"

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