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China Daily Global / 2020-11 / 20 / Page003

Ebola outbreak declared over

By EDITH MUTETHYA in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-11-20 00:00

WHO stresses continued vigilance, surveillance in DR Congo amid COVID-19 pandemic

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the end of the 11th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 42 days since the last patient tested negative and nearly six months after the first cases were reported in Equateur province, in the northwest of the country.

The UN agency called for continued vigilance and strong surveillance as potential flare-ups are possible in the coming months. It said that, together with partners, important measures are being rolled out to improve critical operational capacities in the province, including training front-line workers.

A similar caution was also issued by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a statement on Wednesday.

The humanitarian network warned that the announcement does not spell the end of the considerable humanitarian challenges that the country is facing, including the ongoing coronavirus emergency alongside long-standing economic and security issues.

Dr Jacques Katshishi, the secretary-general for the DR Congo Red Cross, said it is not the time to leave vulnerable local communities behind.

"Bringing Ebola to zero is a huge achievement, but now we are faced with our next challenge: keeping it there. This is not a moment to be complacent: the world cannot afford a resurgence of Ebola in DR Congo. The time to prepare is now," Katshishi said.

Announced on June 1, the outbreak was the second to affect Equateur and the third nationwide since 2018, infecting 119 people and killing 55. It spread to 13 of the region's 18 health zones.

According to the WHO, response to the 11th Ebola outbreak had to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained resources and created difficulties around the movement of experts and supplies. There were also challenges around the large number of cases in remote communities which were often only accessible by boat or helicopter; at times community resistance also hampered response efforts.

Despite the logistical and access challenges, most responders were mobilized locally and moved quickly in line with government measures.

The response also tapped into the expertise of local health workers trained during the previous two outbreaks in the country.

"Responders worked closely with community members to increase understanding of the virus by visiting more than 574,000 households and providing more than 3 million people with pertinent health and safety information," the WHO said.

The UN agency said vaccination efforts began four days after the outbreak was declared and more than 40,000 people at high risk were vaccinated.

Vaccinators used an innovative cold chain storage to keep the Ebola vaccine at temperatures as low as-80 C.

WHO said the freezers can keep vaccines at very low temperatures in the field for up to a week, enabling responders to vaccinate people in communities without electricity.

The agency also lauded responders and all those who tirelessly tracked cases, provided treatment, engaged communities and conducted vaccinations.

"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 Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

She said tackling Ebola in parallel with coronavirus has not been easy, but much of the expertise that have been developed in one disease is transferable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.

Moeti said the technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at super-cold temperatures will be helpful when bringing a coronavirus vaccine to Africa. Major coronavirus vaccine candidates being produced by drugmakers Moderna and Pfizer need to be stored at very cold temperatures. Moderna's vaccine can be stored long term only at -20 C, while Pfizer's should be stored at-70 C.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the same spirit of commitment and solidarity that led to the success of ending the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo must guide global efforts to defeat COVID-19.

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