Ebola survivor Ruth Kavira Sikwaya from Butembo. She contracted Ebola in November 2018 and was treated at the Ebola Treatment Center in Etave, Butembo.
Photo: ©UN/Martine Perret

Progress in fighting Ebola

The number of Ebola survivors is rising steadily thanks to innovative treatment methods. An effective vaccine can also mitigate further spread.

Although the current outbreak is the largest and longest running Ebola outbreak the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced, new tools are now available to help stop the virus and save lives, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported in early October 2019. A thousand people have survived Ebola so far, they announced. 

A highly effective vaccine (shown to have 97.5 per cent efficacy) has protected over 226,000 people. New treatments, that recent study results show can save over 90 per cent of people who come early during their illness, improve survival rates of people infected with Ebola.

The outbreak, declared on 1 August 2018, started in North Kivu and has since spread to parts of Ituri and South Kivu provinces. Currently, active transmission is confined to Ituri, in several hotspots – Mambasa and Mandima –, but the epidemic is evolving in an extremely complex environment marked by poor health infrastructure, political instability, insecurity, community mistrust and resistance, and ongoing conflict involving scores of armed groups.

Revolutionising type and level of care

Through an integrated UN system-wide approach, the United Nations scaled-up its efforts in May in support of the DRC government-led response in the areas of public health, assistance to Ebola-affected communities, political engagement, security and strengthened financial management.

Seven Ebola treatment centres and numerous transit centres have provided care for people in the many areas affected by Ebola, making it possible for those who seek treatment to survive. During this outbreak, the type and level of care has been revolutionised by innovative approaches such as the ‘Ebola cube’, and inclusion of survivors as ‘garde-malades’ caring for others sick with Ebola. 

The ‘Ebola cube’ was developed by the Senegal-based medical charity Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA). It is a room for a patient made of plastic, see-through walls. One of the walls is fitted with plastic glove-like inserts so that health workers don‘t need protective clothing for routine operations. This cuts the risk of exposure and contamination; moreover, it reduces the need for more staff to treat patients. 

Shift to rural communities

There is a shift in hot spots from urban settings to more rural, hard-to-reach communities, across a more concentrated geographical area, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported. Experts are concerned that access and security situations on the ground could hinder final efforts to eliminate the virus from rural communities.

At present, 10 health zones are affected. These areas pose major security challenges. When response activities are suspended, the likelihood of underreporting and the potential for the disease to spread to new areas increases. In addition, continued transmission in remote areas where access is difficult creates the possibility of transmission chains going undetected.

As of 13 October 2019, a total of 3228 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) cases were reported, of which 3114 confirmed and 114 probable, with 2123 deaths, WHO reported.  Risk remains very high at national and regional levels, according to WHOs latest risk assessment, but still low at global level. In recent weeks, the incidence of EVD cases has consistently declined, with 15 new confirmed cases reported in North Kivu and Ituri provinces during the last epidemiological week of 7–13 October, in comparison with 128 confirmed cases per week reported at the peak of the outbreak in April 2019

(ile/WFP/EERC/WHO/UNICEF/Save the Children)

More information:
WFP website: https://www.wfp.org/news/1000-ebola-survivors-drc
WHO website: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/18-10-2019-statement-on-the-meeting-of-the-international-health-regulations-