With the exceptionally welcome news that the ninth Ebola virus outbreak has ended in the Democratic Republic of Congo, AidEx takes a look at the integral ways the virus was contained sooner than expected.
Past lessons learnt
The Government and global community avoided repeating mistakes of 2014 in west Africa and the DRC, when it took months to mobilise substantial funds for Ebola affected countries. This was described as a "wake-up call" by the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, when announcing the establishment of the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility.
In conjunction with the DRC raising the alarm as early as possible, generous donations ensured that in addition to the US$4million put forward by the government, $63 million was secured swiftly from global donors to finance the three-month action plan within 48 hours of the donations being released. The UN, World Food Programme, DFID, USAID and the World Bank alongside Germany, Japan and several other countries ensured the funding became quickly available.
Such funds enabled a speedier deployment of air transportation and helped humanitarian workers to reach remote villages where the outbreak had begun. 11,300 lives were lost to the virus between 2014 and 2016, in comparison to 29 this year.
life-saving leadership and local capacity utilisation
‘Local ownership remains the cornerstone of a successful response’, wrote the country’s health Minister, Oly Ilunga Kalenga. The DRC’s Ministry of Health facilitated an effective response to the outbreak which was identified in early May. The government’s implementation of major response systems made it easier for the international community to then support these existing efforts.
Kalenga explained how working with the community to spread public health awareness went a long way, such as using religious leaders and motorcycle taxi drivers to promote information campaigns around vaccination and hygiene. Carrying messages through the community prevented the virus from ripping through Mbandaka, a major urban centre of more than 1 million people.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, remarks on the "tireless efforts of local teams" and commended the government on implementing the “kind of leadership that saves lives”.
strong partnerships and innovative treatment
With regards to wider international efforts, teams like UK DFID’s Public Health Rapid Response Team were some of the first deployed on the ground to tackle the emerging outbreak. Working alongside the Wellcome Trust and Norwegian government, DFID helped develop an Ebola vaccine to protect people vulnerable to the infection.
Ahead of the outbreak, the new vaccine was trialled by teams in Guinea where it proved safe and effective to use, and supplied to the Congo by US pharmaceutical company Merck. In turn, this positively challenged the previous stigma through altering community perceptions of the virus which is now seen as treatable. Throughout the outbreak 3,330 people were vaccinated by WHO and MSF teams.
Remarking on the success of pan-African regional cooperation, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti commented:
“Dozens of experts from Guinea spent weeks leading Ebola vaccination efforts here, transferring expertise which will enable the DRC to mount an effective response both within its borders and beyond”.
The containment of the latest wave of Ebola is a positive reflection on just how effective humanitarian responses can be when organisations across sectors on different levels work together. With innovation, strong preparation and collaborative partnerships - combined with empowering communities with information, the DRC was able to establish strong foundations which international efforts could support and collectively prevent the further spread of the disease.