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IOM Responds to Resurgence of Ebola in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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IOM-supported health screening point in Gouéké, the current Ebola virus disease hotspot in Guinea, on 17 February 2021 © IOM Guinea

Geneva – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is mobilizing staff and resources to help national authorities in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) after reports of new outbreaks over the past two weeks.

“We need swift containment action on all fronts so that we can save as many lives as possible, and minimize negative impacts on people’s health, social and economic well-being,” said IOM Director General António Vitorino. “As both countries are already grappling with COVID-19, health and other essential services are stretched to the very limit.”

IOM’s public health interventions use analysis of human mobility within and across international borders to inform targeted preparedness and response measures to infectious disease outbreaks.

In Guinea, as of 17 February, three cases have been confirmed in the southeastern N'Zérékoré prefecture bordering Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, and the capital Conakry. This is the first time EVD has been reported in the country since the 2014-2016 outbreak, which spread across land borders into Sierra Leone and Liberia claiming more than 11,300 lives.

IOM Guinea is coordinating with the Ministry of Health and has an office in N’Zérékoré with a public health team that includes two physicians and one epidemiologist. IOM has been asked to ramp up surveillance-related activities and will be deploying staff at points of entry along the borders, to support contact tracing, population mobility mapping and other critical activities. In addition, the Organization is reactivating the public health emergency operation center (PH-EOC) in N'Zérékoré, seconding a physician, and setting up two health screening points in Goueké, the current hotspot.

In the DRC, at least four new EVD cases have been reported in North Kivu province in the eastern part of the country as of 17 February. The previous outbreak that affected the same area – the country's tenth EVD outbreak, considered the second largest in the world – was declared over in June 2020 after claiming the lives of over 3,400 people.

An IOM team has been dispatched to Butembo, where the first case was detected, to support the health authorities in strengthening surveillance. Three health screening points were reactivated on 15 February and an update of the existing population mobility mapping exercises is also underway to guide the positioning of additional health screening points.

“After many years of fighting the virus on the ground, alongside communities and public officials, IOM has learned a number of lessons,” noted Director General Vitorino. “It is critical to remember that this disease moves fast and its effects can be catastrophic, so there is no time to waste.”

IOM’s EVD preparedness activities in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Since 2014, IOM Guinea has been working hand in hand with the Government to enhance preparedness by providing technical support for the establishment of PH-EOCs at the national and prefectural levels, strengthening the capacities at points of entry (airports, ports and land border crossings), supporting the implementation of real-time community-based surveillance through a network of over 9,000 volunteers, donating equipment to over 80 health centres, and more.

In the DRC, a challenging operating environment due to ongoing conflict and a protracted humanitarian crisis, IOM has been a key player in the responses to the ninth, tenth and eleventh EVD outbreaks respectively in the provinces of Equateur, North Kivu and Equateur.

The Organization deployed over 1,500 frontline workers who conducted over 194 million health screenings across 169 critical locations in the DRC and neighbouring countries – South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. In addition, over 30 population mobility mapping exercises were carried out within and across borders.

A mobility-focused approach to public health

In line with the 2005 International Health Regulations, IOM uses a mobility-focused approach to public health preparedness and response to infectious diseases, through analysis of the way people travel, with interventions at points of entry, along transit corridors and in congregation spaces.

The aim is to strengthen systems to ensure cases are detected early through health screening points, contact tracing, and community-based mechanisms, targeting locations where the risks are the highest, to ultimately prevent transmission.

In addition, in contexts where access to clean water can be challenging, IOM works to improve people’s abilities to wash their hands – a key aspect of effective EVD and COVID-19 infection prevention – for example by rehabilitating boreholes, installing portable handwashing stations, and distributing hygiene kits with soap, among other things.

In recent years, IOM has implemented Ebola-related interventions across a dozen countries – including Burundi, the DRC, Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Uganda – to mitigate in-country and cross-border infection. For more information, please contact:

Yasmina Guerda, Public Health Information Officer at IOM Headquarters in Geneva, Tel: +41 79 363 17 99, Email: yguerda@iom.int

Lucas CHANDELLIER, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Guinea, Tel: +224 627 27 33 33, Email: lchandellier@iom.int

Daco Tambilika, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Democratic Republic of the Congo, Email: tambilika@iom.int

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