Opinions & Features July 25, 2018 at 04:37 am

The effective response to Ebola in DR Congo proves Africa is capable of solving its problems

Nduta Waweru July 25, 2018 at 04:37 am

July 25, 2018 at 04:37 am | Opinions & Features

Health officials in DRC Photo: DRC Ministry of Health/Twitter

Ebola has been a thorn in the side of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the most recent outbreak in May being one of the most challenging so far.

Fortunately, the country has just declared the crisis over after a concerted effort by the government, the World Health Organisation, and local health care officials.

Without these efforts, the outbreak in the village of Ikoko-Impenge would have blown into a huge crisis especially since it spread to Mbadaka inhabited by 1.2m Congolese, according to the country’s health minister Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga.

So what went right this time?

According to Ilunga, the local ownership of the issue was vital to dealing with the crisis.

Photo: Dr Ilunga/Twitter

“Local ownership remains the cornerstone of a successful response. The Ministry of Health stepped up to lead the efforts on the ground. By the time international support arrived in DRC, the major elements of a full-blown response were already in place and functioning,” he said in his article in the Guardian.

The use of community leaders such as religious and traditional leaders also helped in passing messages on how to change age-old habits that may hinder response.

The local response was boosted with the international response, which had improved after the outbreak in West Africa in 2014. The partners used the lessons learnt in Liberia and Sierra Leone to speed up response.

The other factor was finances.  When the disease broke out, the DRC government released not only a $56.8m (£43.3m) three-month action plan but fully financed it within 48 hours.  International partners also contributed to the plan, something that was adversely missing in the West African situation, where it took months to get enough money to deal with the crisis.

The whole response plan was also facilitated by the presence of a safe and effective vaccine.

“The new vaccine has not just proved safe and effective against Ebola; it also changed community perceptions of the disease, which is now seen as treatable. Throughout the outbreak, more than 3,300 people were vaccinated. I was vaccinated myself to show the vaccine’s safety and break the stigma around it,” said Ilunga.

Kalenga is also quick to appreciate the contribution of neighbouring countries and Pan African groups like Africa Centres for Disease Control and the African Field Epidemiology Network.

“This regional collaboration sends a strong signal that Africa is willing to take the driver’s seat in solving its problems,” he said.

Although the ninth outbreak in DRC has been successfully handled, there is still room for improvement not only in the country but also across Africa in terms of surveillance and response.

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