Does COVID-19 endanger the fight against Ebola?
With the global COVID-19 pandemic taking research and funding precedence, other emerging infectious diseases have been seemingly placed on the back burner.
Infectious Disease News spoke with Krutika Kuppalli, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, vice chair of the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s Global Health Committee and emerging leader in biosecurity fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, to discuss the impact that COVID-19 is having on the Ebola response.
On June 25, WHO declared the end of the second largest Ebola outbreak in history in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The joy felt by this declaration was overshadowed because the country is afflicted by COVID-19, an outbreak of plague, years of insecurity and the declaration of its 11th Ebola outbreak in Equateur Province. The current Ebola outbreak continues to gain a foothold and has become a great concern because the number of cases continues to rise, and it has spread geographically to 34 health areas in 11 health zones. As of Aug. 29, there were 108 cases (102 confirmed, six probable) and 47 deaths, for a case fatality rate 43.5%. Although the DRC has successfully stopped 10 prior Ebola outbreaks — more than any other country in the world — this is the first time one has been declared on the backdrop of a global pandemic.
During any other time, the announcement of an Ebola outbreak would capture the world’s attention, with resources and funding mobilized. However, this is not a normal time. Currently, the global health workforce and its resources are stretched thin and mostly dedicated to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to a critical shortage of funds, thereby leading to challenges with inadequate resources for investigations, contact tracing, infection prevention, security support, community engagement and case management, all of which are critical to a robust response. Despite WHO mobilizing $1.75 million of funding in July to assist with the Ebola outbreak, there is an urgent need for more to help with vaccination, testing, contact tracing, treatment and health education if the response is to be successful.
If Ebola, Zika, H1N1, SARS-CoV-2, and other emerging infections have taught us anything, it is that we must work with partners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is where novel pathogens are likely to emerge but unlikely to be recognized and reported quickly because of fragile surveillance and health care systems. We also need to invest in strengthening global capacities to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease threats in resource-limited settings. These measures will help move us toward strengthening the global health security agenda and meeting global pandemic preparedness goals. Finally, we need sustained resources to support LMICs to strengthen disease tracking and reporting systems, laboratory systems, infection control efforts and health care workforce training to ensure robust capacity to develop new tools and approaches to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases with pandemic potential.
Click here to read the Cover Story, “Ebola survivors face health issues long after recovery.”