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DR Congo hopes to declare end to Ebola outbreak in April

While the world's attention has been focused on the coronavirus, the last patient under treatment for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was discharged on Tuesday.

FILE: Healthcare workers look after a patient with Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Johnson & Johnson will now introduce an Ebola vaccine. Picture: @WHO/Twitter.

KINSHASA - DR Congo health officials said Monday they were "keeping fingers crossed" to declare the end of the devastating 19-month Ebola epidemic next month.

While the world's attention has been focused on the coronavirus, the last patient under treatment for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was discharged on Tuesday.

If no more cases are diagnosed, the epidemic will officially end on 12 April, or 42 days from the date of the last confirmed patient's second negative test.

"Today, March 9 is the 21st day without any new confirmed case," said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is in charge of the Ebola fight.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed that until then, there are no incidents," he told a news conference.

"The greatest challenge for us today is to follow up on survivors because some continue to secrete the virus in their seminal fluids," he said, adding that they were being treated to avoid infecting their partners.

DR Congo's most recent Ebola outbreak was first identified in August 2018, and WHO declared it a "public health emergency of international concern" last July.

It has killed 2,264 people in DR Congo in the vast central African country's 10th Ebola epidemic since 1976.

It is the second-most deadly Ebola epidemic in history, after an outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

Since that time, the health authorities have gained a more powerful weapon against the disease: vaccination. Nearly 320,00 people have been vaccinated so far in DR Congo.