New measures to overcome challenges in the response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are having a positive impact, although the outbreak remains dangerous and unpredictable, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping and the World Health Organization (WHO) said after a joint mission to assess the outbreak. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Pierre Lacroix on November 7 travelled with the Minister of Health, Dr Oly Ilunga Kalenga, to the city of Beni in eastern DRC, the epicentre of the outbreak, where they met health workers, civil society representatives, peacekeeping troops and local authorities.
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, has recently taken an active approach to armed groups operating in North Kivu, which has contributed to a period of calm in and around the city of Beni, although some attacks have continued in surrounding villages.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, WHO and partners are also making greater use of community surveillance, in which community members are trained to conduct contact tracing activities in areas that outsiders have difficulty accessing. This has contributed to a decline in new cases over the past two weeks, although the situation remains of grave concern.
Mr Lacroix and Dr Tedros also met DRC Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala to share their observations and recommendations and to discuss how best to support the government's response to the outbreak.
"We are facing numerous complex challenges, but it's encouraging and inspiring to see that our efforts to deliver as one UN have been extremely successful in many hotspots and will help to end the outbreak and save lives," said Mr Lacroix.
Since the outbreak began in August, there have been 308 cases and 191 deaths, about half of which have been in Beni, a city of 800,000 people. The current outbreak is the country's 10th and is on track to surpass the previous largest outbreak, which was in Yambuku in 1976 when there were 318 cases and 280 people died.
MONUSCO has provided support to the Ebola response since the beginning of the outbreak through the provision of logistical support, office facilities, transportation, communication and security.
Ebola response teams have sometimes faced difficulties on the ground, with misinformation and mistrust due to decades of conflict contributing to a reluctance with some local populations to allow Ebola response teams to vaccinate, conduct contact tracing and perform safe and dignified burials.
Community engagement activities have helped address concerns and most local communities have proven supportive and are keenly aware of the dangers of Ebola and the importance of ending the outbreak.
"The fact that we have so far prevented Ebola from spreading into neighbouring countries is a testament to the hard work and determination of staff from all partners," said Dr Tedros. "As complex and challenging as this outbreak is, I am confident that working together with the Ministry of Health, MONUSCO and all our partners, we can and will end it." WHO has almost 280 staff in North Kivu, supporting hundreds more from the Ministry of Health and partners.
Six treatment centres have been built, where 91 patients are currently being treated. The centres are operated by the Ministry of Health and partners including ALIMA, Mdecins Sans Frontires and the International Medical Corps. Each treatment centre is supported by a mobile laboratory to rapidly diagnose cases and guide treatment.
To date, 27,000 people have been vaccinated against Ebola, and almost every new patient receives one of 4 investigational treatments, something which was never previously possible during an Ebola outbreak. While mourning those who have died, they noted that 91 people have recovered and returned to their communities thanks to the hard work and joint efforts of national and international responders.
Mr Lacroix and Dr Tedros paid tribute to the dedication of staff from WHO, MONUSCO, the Ministry of Health and all partners who are fighting a dangerous outbreak in extremely difficult conditions.
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