Almost six months after the declaration of the Ebola epidemic in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), response teams on the ground, including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), are still struggling to gain control of the outbreak. So far, 619 people have been infected with the virus and 361 of them have died in what is now the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record and the largest ever in DRC.
As the number of new confirmed Ebola cases grows, a heightened climate of unrest linked to the presidential elections has further restricted the population’s access to health care in and around the city of Beni, where several health centers were damaged during political protests. This is making the prompt identification of new Ebola cases more challenging, as remaining health centers become overloaded.
“In this situation people might have no other choice than to seek medical help in health facilities that do not have adequate triage or infection prevention and control measures in place, which makes the risk of contamination higher,” says Laurence Sailly, MSF emergency coordinator in Beni. “We are talking about a population that has endured many years of conflict. On top of that, they are now faced with the deadliest Ebola outbreak the country has ever seen. The unrest of these past weeks adds even more to their plight by limiting their chances of finding adequate medical care.”
Since the outbreak was declared on August 1, 2018, MSF has been steadily scaling up patient care activities to tackle the increasing number of confirmed Ebola cases, most recently in the Butembo, Katwa, and Komanda health zones. This includes the expansion of the Ebola treatment center (ETC) in Butembo from 64 to 96 beds, the opening of a new ETC in Katwa—east of Butembo—and the opening of a transit center in Bwana Sura in Komanda, Ituri Province, where new hotspots have been identified.