The World Health Organisation and the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo say the Ebola outbreak in DRC remains dangerous and unpredictable.
The Director General of WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, and UN Peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, sated this after a joint mission to the epicentre of the epidemic, around the city of Beni close to the Ugandan border.
Ghebreyesus and Lacroix saw conditions on the ground for themselves, along with Minister of Health, Oly Kalenga, and they met local officials, health workers, civil society leaders, and peacekeepers.
The top UN officials, however, noted that new measures to tackle the Ebola outbreak in DRC were working.
Since the outbreak began in August, there have been 308 cases and 191 deaths, about half of which have been in Beni, which has a population of around 800,000.
The UN Stabilisation Mission in DRC, MONUSCO, said it has taken an active approach in recent weeks to quell armed group activity in the North Kivu area, and protect Beni from conflict.
“While this has contributed to a decline in new cases over the past two weeks, the situation remains of grave concern,” WHO said in a press statement.
Under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, WHO and partners are using community surveillance in areas which are difficult for outsiders to navigate, allowing workers to trace the contacts of anyone who has been infected.
“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,” Lacroix said.
The current epidemic, the country’s 10th, is on track to surpass the previous largest outbreak in 1976, which saw 318 cases in total, leading to 280 deaths, WHO said.
Since the outbreak began, MONUSCO said it assisted in the Ebola response by providing logistical support, office facilities, transportation, communication and with keeping staff safe, from security threats.
After decades of conflict, Ebola response teams have faced misinformation and mistrust from some local populations who are reluctant to allow vaccination programmes or follow rules for contact tracing and safe burials.
The WHO chief said: “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.
“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.”
Patients are being treated in six newly-build centres that are operated by the Ministry of Health and partners, with each 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 four investigational treatments, something which was never previously possible during an Ebola outbreak,” WHO said.
The UN agency noted that in spite of the loss of life, 91 people have recovered and returned to their communities due to the hard work and joint efforts of national and international responders.