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WHO announces end to 10th Ebola outbreak in DRC

More than 2,000 people were killed by the outbreak out of 3,470 cases.

FILE: A nurse prepares a vaccine against Ebola in Goma on 7 August 2019. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday marked the end of the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

More than 2,000 people have been killed by the outbreak out of 3,470 cases.

“It wasn’t easy and at times it seemed like mission impossible,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa regional director.

The outbreak, declared in North Kivu in August 2018, was the second-largest in the world and compounded the active conflict zone in that region.

WHO said continuing to support survivors and maintaining strong surveillance and response systems in order to contain potential flare-ups remained critical.

Despite effective vaccines and treatments that dramatically boosted survival rates, the outbreak dragged on as first responders struggled to gain access to virus hotspots in Congo’s restive east.

“Compared to previous outbreaks, this last one was the longest, the most complex and the deadliest,” Health Minister Eteni Longondo told reporters.

Congo has suffered 11 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered near the Ebola River in 1976, more than double any other country.

Its equatorial forests are a natural reservoir for the virus, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through contact with body fluids.

Even as health officials celebrated the end of one Ebola epidemic, they face another, unrelated one more than 1,000 km away in the western city of Mbandaka.

That outbreak, declared on 1 June, has seen up to 24 cases so far, including 13 deaths.

Longondo he said he expected the response there to be easier because it is in a more stable part of the country where a previous epidemic in 2018 was quickly controlled.

In eastern Congo, some community leaders and local residents were suspicious of the response because they believed Ebola did not exist or resented being overlooked by donors.

Treatment centres were attacked by militia fighters who are active near Congo’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda, and by angry local residents.

The largest Ebola outbreak in history occurred in West Africa from 2013-2016. It killed over 11,300 people mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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