Peter Graaff is the new World Health Organization (WHO) special representative for the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, appointed Graaff, who previously served as the WHO's director of Ebola emergency response in Liberia and West Africa.
Graaff, a Dutch national, will be based in Kinshasa and will coordinate the outbreak response with both the WHO and the DRC government. During a radio address made from Kinshasa today, Graaff said, "We are talking about 'cases' and 'containment' to use scientific terms, but behind every case there is a person, a family and a community that suffers."
Graaff's appointment comes just days after the DRC hit the 1,000-case mark amid a spike of virus activity.
"Currently, response teams are facing daily challenges in ensuring timely and thorough identification and investigation of all cases amidst a backdrop of sporadic violence from armed groups and pockets of mistrust in some affected communities," the WHO said in a situation report issued yesterday.
From Mar 4 to 24, officials confirmed 115 Ebola cases in 13 health zones. Katwa had the most cases (31), followed by Masereka (19), Mandima (17), and Vuhovi (15).
The new cases include healthcare workers, and the total number of healthcare workers now infected during this outbreak is 78. Thirty percent of cases as of Sunday, Mar 24 have been in children, and 57% involve girls and women.
As of today, the WHO Ebola dashboard shows a total of 1,029 cases, 7 more than yesterday. The death toll stands at 639.
Shifting response to the community
Community mistrust still overshadows the Ebola response, the WHO said. As of Sunday, only 78% death alerts were responded to successfully by safe and dignified burial teams, and the WHO notes there has been an increase in community deaths in the last 3 weeks.
To combat this, the WHO has established operational analysis and coordination centers focused on engaging the community.
"With the shift in strategy, the focus has been to transition ownership of the Ebola response interventions to local communities, particularly in the hotspots of Butembo, Katwa and Vuhovi," the WHO said.
"Nine Ebola community committees have been established in Katwa (two), Butembo (three) and Vuhovi (four) comprising of youth leaders, quarter chiefs, women's associations, traditional practitioners, and activists. They are responsible for making decisions on Ebola response activities within their localities."
The WHO said that, despite the recent uptick, officials are seeing ample progress.
"There are still many areas in which disease transmission has stopped," the WHO said. "Local and national authorities and partners must continue with the current proven and innovative public health measures, which will ultimately bring this outbreak to an end."
Mar 27 WHO statement
WHO Ebola dashboard
Mar 26 WHO situation report