The Reemergence of Ebola in the Congo


The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has reported that once again, there has been a recent outbreak of the Ebola virus. The Ebola virus caused world-wide panic in 2014 when there was an outbreak in the western region of Africa. The 2014-2016 outbreak proved to be the deadliest outbreak in the history of the Ebola, since it was first discovered in 1976. The current outbreak has spread throughout the Bas Uele Province, which borders the Central African Republic. On May 13, 2017, there were an estimated 37 suspected cases and three confirmed deaths. As of May 20th, the death toll is said to have reached a total of four deaths.

The western region that has suffered due to the recent outbreak was described by the Congolese Ministry of Health as being:

“Remote, isolated and hard-to-reach northern part of the country, with limited transport and communication networks – factors that all impeded transmission of information about the suspected outbreak. Currently it takes about 2-3 days to reach the epicenter from Kinshasa.”

The Ebola virus is transmitted to humans from wild animals and then  human-to human transmissions. Ebola is believed to be transmitted through region specific fruit bats that are natural hosts of the Ebola virus. The transmission occurs through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people,animals,surfaces and materials. Traditional burial practices throughout parts of Africa encourage close contact with the recently deceased. The direct contact of a deceased, infected person also results in the transmission of the disease. Sexual contact is another source of transmission. These methods of transmission require an increase in public awareness and understanding in order to properly prevent and treat infections.

Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms. The initial symptoms may include fever fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. As the symptoms progress, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. The fatality rate averages at 50 percent. There are five different strains that have been identified as of May 2017. The most notorious of these strains are Zaire, Bundibugyo and Sudan, which have been the strands identified in the largest outbreaks. The Zaire strand was responsible for the 2014-2016 outbreak, as well as the most recent one.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was criticized during the initial stages of the 2014 outbreak for not responding efficiently and potentially prolonging the duration of the outbreak, which certainly resulted in a raise of the death toll. The WHO is responsible for preventing outbreaks and maintaining surveillance of the ongoing situation. The organization is also meant to provide assistance to at-risk countries in order to develop plans to prevent and combat various types diseases. There is no approved vaccine to prevent Ebola, and there is no approved treatment or even a cure. Despite this, clinical trials of an experimental vaccine are currently underway in West Africa.

In reaction to the recent outbreak, the Congolese government rapidly declared a Red Alert, encouraging the monitoring of signs and symptoms as well as the surveillance of ports of entry. South Sudan partially closed its borders last week. This move restricts the flow of the Congolese migrants and goods across the border. Warnings have been sent out in regard to the sale of bushmeat, which the the South Sudanese government attributes to being responsible for hosting the virus. The regional governments of neighboring South Sudanese states are requesting that WHO send resources to screen possibly infected residents.

The failures and successes of the outbreak in 2014 are believed to largely influence the timing, steps and procedures throughout the current outbreak. Relief work will be dependent on the successful coordination between government and non-governmental organizations, public awareness and engagement, as well as sufficient resources.

Laura Zamora is a contributor at Politicsay. Laura majored in International Affairs and earned a certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Laura focuses on Human Rights violations and other social issues.

Laura Zamora