Democratic Republic of Congo declares the end of its 11th Ebola outbreak

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has officially declared the end of its 11th Ebola outbreak on Wednesday, six months after the first cases of the deadly virus were reported.

World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti tweeted: “It wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it!”

It had been 42 days since the last confirmed case tested negative, according to the WHO. No new confirmed cases have been reported since September 28.

The outbreak began on June 1 in the country’s western Equateur Province, just as another outbreak was winding down in the country’s east. The eastern outbreak was the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak on record, and was officially declared over on June 25, but the one in Equateur was just beginning.

By the time the Equateur outbreak ended, it had 130 confirmed cases — 75 recoveries and 55 deaths.

The two outbreaks were geographically far apart, and genetic sequencing analysis confirmed they were unrelated.

The Equateur outbreak posed a massive logistical challenge for health and aid workers from WHO, local groups, and government agencies. Not only did it come in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when resources were already strained, but the outbreak was located in communities across dense rainforests and remote villages, the WHO said in a press release.

Some places with high levels of infection were only accessible by boat or helicopter, which complicated the transportation and testing of lab samples, and delayed deployment of experts to the affected areas.

Sometimes the workers would also face resistance from the local community, said the WHO. For years, responders on the ground have struggled against extreme community mistrust and fear, worsened by simmering conflict between militant groups and government forces. Some humanitarian workers have come under attack by armed groups.

Health workers tried to counteract this fear by visiting local communities to increase their understanding of the virus. Local health workers and WHO experts visited more than 574,000 households, and vaccinated more than 40,000 people at high risk.

All the while, they had to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions and precautions such as wearing protective gear.

The WHO said it used a new cold chain freezer storage to keep the Ebola vaccine at extremely low temperatures for up to a week, allowing responders to vaccinate people in communities without electricity.

“Overcoming one of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in remote and hard to access communities demonstrates what is possible when science and solidarity come together,” said Moeti.

“Tackling Ebola in parallel with Covid-19 hasn’t been easy, but much of the expertise we’ve built in one disease is transferable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.”