BY: ANA ZHELYAZKOVA
After the 2014/15 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in Western Africa spurred immense criticism against the ineffective response by the international community, the awareness towards this specific infectious disease has remained at a noticeably high level. The latest Ebola outbreak was declared on May 8, 2018 after laboratory results confirmed two cases of the virus in the Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The spread of this particular disease is not new for the DRC; Ebola derives its name from the Ebola river in the northern part of the state.
Similarly to the 2014/15 EVD outbreak, the virus is spreading in one of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) where decades-long instability has made UN presence, in the form of the Peacekeeping operation MONUSCO, a necessity. Furthermore, the outbreak poses a series of logistical complications extending beyond the poor conditions of DRC’s infrastructure. The remote location of a majority of the cases was the primary concern until a case was confirmed in the urban area of Mbandaka, alarming national and international health officials of the risk of the outbreak spurring into an emergency of international concern. Although these developments might create the impression that the previous EVD epidemic is recurring, the similarities between the two outbreaks are now beginning to diverge.
Ten days after the outbreak was announced by the DRC government, the IHR emergency committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the situation does not meet the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern nor will any international travel or trade restrictions be imposed. The reasons behind the otherwise globally alarming nature of any EVD outbreak not receiving the highest grade of emergency reflect a particularly positive development – the lessons from the 2014/15 Ebola epidemic have truly been learned.
The immediate reaction by local officials in communicating the threat triggered a rapid mobilization by the WHO and partners. Just days after the first two cases were confirmed, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus visited the affected region to assess the response and discuss the path forward with DRC’s President and Minister of Health. The meeting not only strengthened the cooperation efforts between all partners but also marked the beginning of the very first vaccination campaign against Ebola in a real-life setting. The campaign is set to begin on Tuesday, May 22, and will use over 4,000 shots of the experimental, yet unlicensed, but proven effective and safe vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV.
Having experienced Ebola outbreaks in the past (including one in 2017), the Congolese government mobilized all available resources to mitigate the spread of the virus. “Financial hurdles should not in any way be a brake to having access to healthcare, especially at a time of epidemic”, stated DRC’s Minister of Health as it was announced that all health services will be free of charge. The proactive and decisive management of local officials facilitated further engagement by the international community: on Saturday, May 19, USAID announced that the organization is committing $1 million to support DRC’s Ebola Response Plan. Additionally, the immediate and effective response of DRC and partners triggered the very first commitment of the World Bank’s Group Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility – a $12 million grant by the World Bank’s innovative mechanism will provide much needed support for the Ebola response.
Although the outbreak was announced only recently, it could already be argued that the emergency response by national and international stakeholders is in stark contrast to the lack of coordination observed during the 2014/15 Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Western Africa. Additionally, if proven effective, the utilization of the experimental Ebola vaccine could help kick-off the eradication process for one of the most recently discovered infectious diseases.
Ana Zhelyazkova is a student in the Master of Public Health program of Ludwig-Maximilians University. She also serves as Social Engagement Coordinator for the Association for UN Interns, New York, student employee at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy and volunteer for the German branch of Médecins du Monde.
Photo Credit: Quartz
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.