27th June 2018

Initial reports of a new outbreak of Ebola began to surface at the end of April in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since then, it is estimated that there have been more than 50 confirmed cases and almost 25 deaths. Though it's too early to determine exactly where and how this outbreak started or how far it could spread, the health authorities in the DRC are confident that they will be able to contain the current outbreak of this deadly disease.

With organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières and The World Health Organisation being quick on the ground, it seems that this outbreak could be controlled much better than previous ones, which saw international agencies responding too late. Within the DRC, communities themselves are much more aware of the symptoms and much more educated at preventing a spread of the disease. Since the last outbreak, medical staff are also better trained to monitor their patients and to recognise the signs of contamination. Neighbouring countries such as Congo-Brazzaville are being put on high alert in order to reduce the geographical spread of the disease through mobile hosts. It seems that this well co-ordinated approach is vital in ensuring that the outbreak is effectively contained.

Medical staff of MSF treats patients

(Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières)

What’s more, there are promising vaccines being rolled out among communities where outbreaks have occurred. The WHO and the DRC’s Health Ministry have announced that since May 21st they have vaccinated 682 people in cities and towns where cases of Ebola have been confirmed this year. Although many of these vaccines are in relatively early trial stages, they reflect the progress in understanding that has developed around Ebola. Whilst preventative medicine is imperative, there have also been huge advancements in medicine used to treat people who already have the disease, with some patients making a full recovery.

Despite many positive reports of the advancements that have been made in treating Ebola, there are still real fears and concerns among local communities. For most of them, the previous Ebola epidemic is still a clear memory and so they are very aware of the harsh realities of the disease. Many people who live in areas where Ebola has been reported, such as Bikoro and Mbandaka, fear that the outbreak cannot be contained as easily as the authorities suggest. They fear that the authorities may, in fact, be too optimistic, overlooking simple ways that the disease can spread, specifically, down the largely unmonitored Congo River.

In response to this, the Congolese authorities have recently introduced a night-time curfew on the river and mandatory temperature check-points. However, as thousands of people use this river and as it can take up to twenty days for symptoms to show, it seems that this process may not be effective enough. Although staff and travellers are keeping vigilant at key points along the river, it only takes one person to travel across the border into Congo-Brazzaville carrying the virus for it to become an official epidemic.

Map of Democratic Republic of Congo

Despite the global disturbance Ebola seems to have caused in mass media, it is important to remember that there have been tens of dozens of cases throughout history. The epidemic between 2014 and 2016 has gone down in history as the biggest and most fatal episode, with over 11,000 people being killed, however, prior to this outbreak there were thousands of deaths related to the Ebola virus in many parts of Africa in the 20th century. Although Ebola carries such a frightening stigma, the number of people actually dying from it is relatively low, compared to other infectious diseases such as Malaria, which kills millions.

With the current outbreak in the DRC causing international alarm, the government has declared that it is well-prepared. This response seems to be a direct consequence of lessons learned from the 2014 to 2016 outbreak. The health ministry has stated that it has “no doubts” that the country has what it takes to keep this outbreak under control. 

Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, Bread and Water for Africa UK's partners, the We Are the Future Center and the Faith Healing Development Organisation, are keeping their guards up. They too are ready to get organised at the first report of a new contagion.  

With better understanding, more advanced medicine and an educated and proactive approach from communities, it seems that this outbreak is unlikely to have the same catastrophic effects as the last.


Saskia Edwards is a Volunteer at Bread and Water for Africa UK.

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