The World Health Organization declared an end to the most recent outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, marking the latest key milestone in the fight against the deadly disease.
The announcement comes 42 days, or the equivalent of two 21-day incubation cycles of the virus, after the last confirmed patient in the affected Bas-Uele province tested negative for Ebola.
“With the end of this epidemic, DRC has once again proved to the world that we can control the very deadly Ebola virus if we respond early in a coordinated and efficient way,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the newly appointed WHO director-general, who is a native of Ethiopia and the first African to head the agency.
Four people died in the outbreak and four others survived the disease, WHO said. Nearly 600 people who had close contacts with affected individuals were registered and monitored closely for the duration of the outbreak, according to WHO.
This was the eighth outbreak of Ebola the Central African nation has experienced since 1976. The last one started in 2014 and killed nearly 50 people, but it was unrelated to the worst outbreak of the virus in West Africa in 2014. Over 11,3000 people died from the disease during that massive wave, most of them in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
A 45-year-old man was reported in April as the first case in the most recent outbreak. The taxi driver who took the man to the hospital and a person who cared for the man both became sick.
All three later died in the Likati health district of the northern Bas-Uele province, bordering the Central African Republic.
Teams of epidemiologists, biologists and sanitation specialists were mobilized to travel to the affected areas as part of the international response to halt the highly infectious virus, which spreads through contact with bodily fluids, WHO said.
Quick response is key
The effective response to this outbreak was achieved through the quick alert by local authorities of suspected cases, immediate blood testing, the early announcement of the outbreak by the government, and rapid response by local and national health authorities, said WHO.
“Together with partners, we are committed to continuing support to the government of DRC to strengthen the health system and improve health care delivery and preparedness at all levels,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, who visited DRC in May to discuss the steps to control the outbreak.
“I urge that we now focus all our efforts on strengthening the health system in Bas-Uele province, which has been stressed by the outbreak, said DRC Health Minister Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, as he announced the end of the outbreak. “Without strengthening the health system, effective surveillance is not possible.”
WHO said specialists will be working with local authorities to ensure survivors have access to proper medical and psychological care, counseling and education to help them reintegrate into family and community life.
In 2014, WHO was strongly criticized for mishandling the response to the Ebola outbreak in East Africa.
In a report published the next year, a panel convened by Harvard Global Health Institute and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine concluded that lack of reliable and rapid response led to “immense human suffering, fear and chaos.”
While clinical trials of experimental vaccines are underway in West Africa, there is no approved vaccine, treatment or cure from Ebola.