On August 1, 2018, the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared that an outbreak of the Ebola virus had occurred in the North Kivu (Kivu Nord) and Ituri provinces. As of July 22, 2019, the World Health Organization reported 2,597 cases of Ebola (2,503 confirmed, 94 probable), with 1,746 deaths (1,652 confirmed, 94 probable).
This is the world’s second largest Ebola outbreak in recorded history and the largest ever in the DRC. The outbreak is occurring in a region rife with insecurity as multiple armed groups are engaged in regional ethnic struggles. This violence has caused large-scale displacement, with more than 1 million internally displaced people in North Kivu province alone. Several attacks have been launched against health facilities and workers, resulting in the looting and burning of clinics, and kidnapping and murder of staff. The violence targeting health workers and facilities has slowed down the response and forced the suspension of activities for a week in April.
Adding to the peril, the Ebola-affected provinces share borders with Rwanda and Uganda, with frequent cross-border movement for personal travel and trade, increasing the chance that the virus could spread beyond the DRC. There have already been isolated cases of Ebola reported outside of the outbreak zone. In June, three members of a family with confirmed cases of Ebola traveled from the DRC to Uganda briefly before being brought back across the border. All three later died. Additionally, a fisherwoman died of Ebola in the DRC in July after having spent time while infected in Uganda. On July 14, the DRC Ministry of Health confirmed that a case of Ebola had reached Goma, when a pastor who had been ministering to Ebola patients contracted the virus before traveling to the city of 2 million people. In all of these cases, quick action to isolate the patients, trace their contacts and administer vaccinations to those possibly exposed appears to have limited the spread of the virus.
Based on this geographical expansion of the virus, the World Health Organization on July 17 declared the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, requiring a coordinated international response.
IMA World Health is working in the epicenter of the Ebola zone, coordinating with local communities and organizations to stop the spread of the virus in 5 of the most-affected health zones in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where nearly 1.2 million people live.
The work, carried out in cooperation with DRC’s Ministry of Health and the WHO Strategic Response Plan, is being funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). IMA’s role centers around supporting health facilities and community engagement activities in and around Beni and Butembo towns. Highlights of IMA’s Ebola response include:
Implementing community outreach and mobilization, which includes training and sensitizing community outreach workers and the general public on signs and symptoms of Ebola, disease awareness, prevention and reduction of stigma. This includes working with religious leaders to engage their respective congregations in the fight against Ebola and increase community cooperation with Ebola response teams.
Conducting contact tracing in coordination with the WHOsupported contact team to track the spread of the virus and quickly identify and isolate new cases.
Refurbishing first line health care facilities to isolate patients who present to the health facility with symptoms of Ebola and prevent the spread of infection to other patients or health care workers within these facilities.
Improving infection prevention and control practices at 50 at-risk health facilities by providing them with water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management facilities and equipment to prevent transmission of the virus within the facility from patient to patient or patient to health care provider. We are also supplying health facilities with personal protection supplies such as soap, gloves, gowns, masks and goggles to protect workers who come in contact with the virus.