Since the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declared a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Bikoro in Equateur Province on May 8, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) has jumped to action in an effort to get the outbreak under control.
As of May 13, 2018, a total of 39 cases of Ebola have been reported in Bikoro; 2 have been confirmed, 20 are thought to be probable (including 18 deaths), and 17 are suspected.
Already, the first multidisciplinary team consisting of experts from WHO, Mèdecins Sans Frontières and Provincial Division of Health was put together, and officials from all organizations headed out to Bikoro to investigate the situation; they arrived on May 10, 2018.
The team is working on collecting data to better understand the outbreak and what factors are working to drive the epidemic. While in Bikoro, they will be conducting an active case search as well as contact tracing and working on creating treatment care units for those affected by the outbreak. In addition, they will be setting up mobile laboratories and working to educate the community on safe practices.
Shortly after, on May 13, 2018, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, went to visit the town to assess outbreak response firsthand.
“Today, I had the chance to see the Ebola response in DRC,” he wrote in a recent tweet. “Teams are motivated and working hard. I visited the hospital in Bikoro where patients are being treated, and lab technicians are testing samples. We’re working with our partners 24/7 to stop this outbreak.”
During his visit, Dr. Tedros met with Joseph Kabila, the President of DR Congo, as well as Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, the Minister of Health, to discuss outbreak response and ensure that they agree on the correct steps to take going forward in their quest to quell the outbreak.
Although in the latest Disease Outbreak News WHO deemed the risk of spread to surrounding countries as “moderate,” the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti admitted concern pertaining to how close the cases are to urban centers. In fact, the Bikoro health zone is about 150 km from the capital of Equateur Province—Mbandaka—in an area of the country that is particularly difficult to reach.
In an effort to address such a challenge, WHO received assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) in creating an air-bridge between Kinshasa and Mbandaka and other areas affected by the outbreak, with flights transporting supplies and personnel heading out six days a week; the cost of the air bridge for the duration of 3 months is estimated at US $2.4 million.
Discussion of a vaccination campaign is also underway, according to STAT News, using Merck’s Ebola vaccine, which is a recent study proved to provide protection against the deadly disease for up to 2 years.
Dr. Tedros said that the government of the DRC formally asked to use the experimental vaccine candidate, and according to STAT, Merck has already granted permission for the vaccine to be used in this outbreak. “Everything is ready for the vaccine. They want it,” Dr. Tedros reportedly told STAT in a recent interview.
The equipment required to keep the vaccine at subzero temperatures was estimated to arrive this past Sunday, May 13, 2018, to be set up this week. Dr. Tedros told the news source that the vaccines in Geneva will be sent to the DRC by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. The vaccination campaign will then follow.
“That’s our plan. And so far, things are going as planned,” he told them. “We have better weapons this time.”