Officials today announced the end of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC.
The outbreak, which was officially declared on May 8 after a cluster of suspicious illnesses arose, was the ninth Ebola outbreak the DRC has faced but the first time a vaccine was available to help stop the spread. During the outbreak, 54 people contracted Ebola and 33 people died.
“The outbreak was contained due to the tireless efforts of local teams, the support of partners, the generosity of donors, and the effective leadership of the Ministry of Health,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a statement. “That kind of leadership, allied with strong collaboration between partners, saves lives.”
The outbreak was centered in the hard-to-reach town of Bikoro but spread to other areas, including the large city of Mbandaka, roughly 80 miles away. Officials responded to the outbreak within 24 hours, eventually setting up dozens of screening points along the Congo River, which acts as a highway for the remote area.
The response was modeled after the efforts to stop an Ebola outbreak in 2017 in a remote area of the DRC, which infected eight people and killed four. The vaccine was available during the 2017 outbreak, but officials elected not to use it after learning that the outbreak did not spread beyond known contacts of the infected.
This year, treatment facilities in each of the affected areas were stocked with the vaccine, Merck’s V920, which has not been approved in any country to date. Merck has stockpiled more than 300,000 doses and donated nearly 7,500 of them to the DRC to battle the outbreak. The voluntary vaccination campaign began on May 21 in Mbandaka, with the first doses given to front-line health care workers and then to anyone who had contact with confirmed Ebola cases or contacts of those people. In all, more than 3,300 people were vaccinated, officials said.
Additionally, WHO announced that five investigational therapies would be tested during the outbreak, including the monoclonal antibody mAB114, which was developed by NIH from antibodies taken from an Ebola survivor. It was unclear how many patients received these experimental treatments.
Oly Ilunga Kalenga,
MD, the DRC’s minister of health, said in a statement that no new cases had been confirmed since June 6 and that the last confirmed case was treated and cured at the Bikoro Ebola treatment center on June 12. After a 42-day observation period — two incubation periods — he declared the outbreak over.
“This result would not have been possible without the dedication and professionalism of the Congolese health care providers, who gave the best of themselves to serve the nation and make life triumph,” Kalenga said in a statement. “I want to express my gratitude to them.”
With the outbreak over, WHO is calling for the DRC and the international community to build from the positive momentum gained by the outbreak’s quick containment.
“This effective response to Ebola should make the government and partners confident that other major outbreaks affecting the country, such as cholera and polio, can also be tackled,” Tedros said. “We must continue to work together, investing in strengthened preparedness and access to health care for the most vulnerable.” – by Caitlyn Stulpin
Disclosures: Kalenga and Tedros report no relevant financial disclosures.