The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the end of the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“The outbreak was contained due to the tireless efforts of local teams, the support of partners, the generosity of donors, and the effective leadership of the Ministry of Health. That kind of leadership, allied with strong collaboration between partners, saves lives,” said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during an announcement in Kinshasa on Tuesday.
This most recent outbreak was the DRC’s ninth in four decades.
But, as the WHO noted in a press statement, unlike previous outbreaks, this one involved four separate locations, including an urban centre with river connections to the capital and to neighbouring countries, as well as remote rain-forest villages.
The spread of the outbreak to Mbandaka, the capital of Équateur province, roused the concern of the health ministry and other public health organisations that the disease could spread to other parts of DRC, and to neighbouring countries.
The proximity of Mbandaka to the the Congo River, which has significant regional traffic across borders, signalled considerable risk of the outbreak’s rapid spread.
For this reason, 7 540 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine were deployed to the DRC in May and a treatment centre in Mbandaka was the first to get the experimental vaccine.
The immunisation programme was administered as what is called “ring vaccination” which was carried out in a co-operative effort between the DRC’s health ministry, the WHO and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
At the time, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told the Mail & Guardian that the vaccine would be administered in a general campaign for the whole population of the affected area but will instead target those at the highest risk of infection.
This included people who have been in contact with confirmed cases, and the contacts of contacts, meaning roughly 150 people were vaccinated for every confirmed case, Jasarevic said. These groupings are called rings.
On June 12, the last known person infected with the deadly hemorrhagic fever had reportedly recovered, twice testing negative for the virus.
The WHO credited rapid and vigorous surveillance, contact tracing, containment, and public education efforts by the DRC, the WHO and other international partners for bringing an end to the 76-day outbreak.
“WHO moved quickly and efficiently,” said WHO regional director for Africa Dr Moeti, “We also demonstrated the tremendous capacity of the African region … Dozens of experts from Guinea spent weeks leading Ebola vaccination efforts here, transferring expertise which will enable the DRC to mount an effective response both within its borders and beyond.”
The organisation also noted that the effectiveness of this recent response to Ebola should make bolster confidence that other major outbreaks affecting the DRC, such as cholera and polio, can also be tackled.