With the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s worst ever Ebola outbreak now in its tenth month, the United Nations announced measures to strengthen its response, with the world body’s newly appointed emergency co-ordinator (EERC) declaring there is “no time to lose”.
Amid a surge in new cases the epidemic has claimed over 1,200 lives and threatens to spread to other provinces in the east, as well as neighbouring countries. A third of those infected are children; a higher proportion than during previous outbreaks.
Up to mod-May the number of cases, according to UN figures, stood at 1,847 (1,759 confirmed and 88 probable). In total, there have been 1,223 deaths (1,135 confirmed and 88 probable) and 487 people have survived the deadly virus.
“The Ebola response is working in an operating environment of unprecedented complexity for a public health emergency—insecurity and political protests have seen periodic disruptions in efforts to fight the disease,” EERC David Gressly, who is also deputy chief of the UN Stabilisation Mission for the DRC (MONUSCO), said.
The UN and NGOs support government and wider Congolese efforts to contain the virus in Ituri and North Kivu provinces but ongoing insecurity and community mistrust hampers access. This hinders the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Health Ministry from detecting, treating and vaccinating sick people, leading to more intense Ebola transmission.
The increasingly complex environment prompted the UN, in partnership with government and others, to strengthen political engagement and operational support to negotiate better access to communities; increase support for humanitarian co-ordination; and bolster preparedness and readiness planning for the Goma region and neighbouring countries.
WHO is adapting public health strategies to identify and treat people as quickly as possible; expanding vaccinations to reach more people and redoubling efforts to stem health facility transmissions.
The heart of the matter
Pointing out “an enhanced UN wide response is required to overcome operating constraints”, Gressly stressed “this includes moving senior leadership and operational decision making to the epidemic epicentre in Butembo”, a strengthened co-ordination and support mechanism is.
Additional UN measures will bolster the work of NGOs and agencies on the ground, including UNICE, which is leading community engagement activities; providing psychosocial interventions and preventing infection through water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Additionally, strengthened financial planning and reporting will ensure sustainable and predictable funding required to mount a strategic Ebola response plan.
“System-wide and international support is what WHO has been calling for”, said Ibrahima Socé Fall, the UN health agency’s Assistant Director-General of Emergency Response.
Dr Fall has been in Butembo since the end of March, working with WHO Ebola Incident Manager, Dr Michel Yao. WHO will continue to co-ordinate public health interventions implemented by other UN partners.