In the second week of March this year, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported 58 new Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time, it was the highest number in a week since the beginning of 2019. With that incidence, the Democratic Republic of Congo achieved another dark feat in the history of health around the world. This was the second-worst outbreak ever.
As of March, 610 lives had been claimed already with 1000 people infected.
The statistics continue to be gloomy as time goes on. In this month, the death toll has come to 1440 with 319 suspected cases under investigation and the virus has spread to neighbouring Uganda.
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Uganda’s first patient was a 5-year-old child. He died within 24 hours. Two other patients were confirmed to have the virus – a 50-year-old female (grandmother of the first case) and 3-year-old male (younger brother of the first case). The grandmother also died within 24 hours.
A case was suspected in Kenya but the results of tests carried out by the Kenya Medical Research Institute laboratories showed that the 36-year-old sick woman did not have the deadly haemorrhagic fever.
The data for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, however, is devastating. As if the deaths are not enough, some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo that are affected by the deadly virus are further plagued by ethnic violence.
Already, 3000 people are displaced in the Ituti Province. This is standing in the way of efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak and it heightened fears that the disease could spread more.
The devastating effect of the 2014-2016 outbreak (the worst in history) in West Africa is still fresh in the minds of many people. There were 28,639 suspected, probable, and confirmed cases and 11,316 deaths.
Apart from these implications, the economies of some of the West African countries suffered. According to 2014 projections from the World Bank, an estimated $2.2 billion was lost in 2015 in the gross domestic product (GDP) of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three most affected countries.
Approximately 20% of all Ebola cases which occurred in the West African region were in children under 15 years old. Recovery plans from the three countries estimate that more than 17,300 children were orphaned because of Ebola. Schools closed because of the epidemic and by the time they re-opened, the students had lost approximately 1,848 hours of education i.e. 33 – 39 weeks of schooling.
The healthcare system was affected directly and indirectly. In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone alone, 881 healthcare workers were confirmed to have contracted the disease in the process of taking care of patients. 513 of them died. The countries lost 8%, 7% and 1% of their doctors, nurses and midwives to Ebola.
The epidemic also obstructed the provision of healthcare services and caused setbacks in the treatment and control of other serious diseases including HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, assuming healthcare services were reduced by 50% in the three most affected countries, an estimated additional 10, 600 lives were lost to the deadly deadline diseases that had little attention during the epidemic.
Despite the overwhelming statistics in the 2018-2019 outbreak, the World Health Organization is reported to have said the situation does not yet merit being declared a global emergency.
To be declared a global emergency, an outbreak must constitute a risk to other countries and require a coordinated response. The declaration typically triggers more funding and political attention.
This notwithstanding, most countries are taking several measures to prevent another crisis on the African continent.
By the start of this week, a total of 135,395 people (including at-risk health workers) in the DRC and neighbouring countries had been vaccinated with Merck’s vaccine. Rapid Response Teams have been dispatched to affected regions to identify other people who may be at risk, and ensure they are monitored and provided with care if they become ill.
Ebola Treatment Units (ETU) are in many places and more units are being set up at referral hospitals to handle cases if they occur. Community education and psychosocial support have also intensified. Last, more stringent disease monitoring protocols have been put in place at border posts.
Hopefully, these measures prevent the further spread of the disease and avoid another medical crisis in Africa.