Five people including a 15-year-old girl have died from a fresh Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.
The DRC government made the announcement just weeks before the country was expected to be declared Ebola-free.
The new outbreak occurred in Wangata health zone, Mbandaka, in Équateur province – at the North-west part of the country. Nine cases have so far been reported in total.
The last outbreak in the eastern part of the country was the world’s second largest Ebola epidemic on record, with more than 2200 lives lost and 3400 confirmed infections since the outbreak was declared on August 1, 2018.
The outbreak occurred in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
This time around, the outbreak is affecting the North-west part of the country and is its 11th outbreak since the virus was first discovered in the country in 1976.
The city of Mbandaka and its surrounding area were the sites of the outbreak, which took place from May to July 2018.
With the newest outbreak, the country is also battling the world’s largest measles outbreak and the ongoing COVID-19 which is ravaging almost all the countries in the world.
The DRC has recorded 3,195 coronavirus infections and 72 deaths.
WHO said according to the country’s health ministry, six Ebola cases have so far been detected in Wangata, of which four have died and two are alive and under care.
“Three of these six cases have been confirmed with laboratory testing. It is likely more people will be identified with the disease as surveillance activities increase,” it stated.
The WHO chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that the resurgence of Ebola in the country is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face.
“Although much of our attention is on the pandemic, WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies,” he said.
Mr Ghebreyesus had tweeted on his twitter handle @DrTedros, the news that six cases had been reported in Mbandaka, in the country’s North-west Equateur province.
“It’s the country’s 11th outbreak of the potentially deadly virus, which is passed by bodily fluids and has a fatality rate of anywhere between 25% and 90%, depending on the outbreak.”
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Also, the Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that the fresh outbreak is happening at a challenging time.
Ms Moeti said there is a need to reinforce local leadership, and that WHO plans to send a team to support the response.
“Given the proximity of this new outbreak to busy transport routes and vulnerable neighbouring countries we must act quickly.
“WHO has worked over the last two years with health authorities, Africa CDC and other partners to strengthen national capacity to respond to outbreaks,” she said.
Ms Moeti said WHO is already on the ground in Mbandaka supporting the response to this outbreak, as part of capacity built during the 2018 outbreak.
“The team supported the collection and testing of samples, and reference to the national laboratory for confirmation. Contact tracing is underway. Work is ongoing to send additional supplies from North Kivu and from Kinshasa to support the government-led response.
“A further 25 people are expected to arrive in Mbandaka tomorrow. WHO is also working to ensure that essential health services are provided to communities despite these emergency events, ” she added.
The DRC is still struggling to end the 10th Ebola outbreak that occurred in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri provinces, since August 2018.
On May 14, the Ministry of Health began the 42-day countdown to the declaration of the end of that outbreak.
There has been no new case in the eastern region in the past 21 days. However, WHO recommends 42-day wait before declaring the disease over because the incubation period for the virus is 21 days.
However, new outbreaks of Ebola are expected in the DRC given the existence of the virus in animal reservoirs in many parts of the country.