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Press Release

Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo declared a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’; distrust and lack of community engagement catalyze spread—response should be scaled up

  • The IRC has been on the ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to fight Ebola since the outbreak was declared last August, training health care workers throughout the region 
  • With 10-15 confirmed cases each day and more than 1,600 people dead, the disease is spreading at alarming rates 
  • Demonstrating extremely low levels of trust in the response, people continue to die from the disease at home instead of going to health facilities 


The outbreak now is considered an “extraordinary event which requires a vigorous international response.”

As the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda is declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for Ebola response actors to continue to make positive changes to the response strategy, including:  

A rapid scale-up of Ebola infection prevention programs and community engagement in DRC, Uganda and neighboring countries, especially Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan 

Continued support for UN Ebola Response Coordinator David Gressly’s efforts to bring together and listen to on-the-ground actors in order to improve the response 

Increased community engagement and demilitarization of the response

Bob Kitchen, International Rescue Committee’s Vice President for Emergencies, said, 

“If we cannot contain Ebola at the epicenter, we will continue to see cases spread to metropolitan areas and across borders.  

“Today’s declaration should spring the international community into action and wake up the world to the severity of the situation. This is a public health emergency in a complex humanitarian emergency – failure to respond accordingly will lead to a failure to contain the disease.

“The inability to build community trust has proven a major barrier to stopping the spread of this disease. Local communities are perplexed and frustrated by continued increase in the number of people dying juxtaposed with a massive influx of international organizations into the region during the past year. 

“Real community engagement means going beyond dialogue and changing the approach based on community feedback. It means earning the trust and cooperation of the community and tailoring approaches to its most vulnerable members.”

The IRC has been responding to the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu since its declaration in August last year working in more than 70 health facilities and leading on infection prevention and control (IPC) and working in women’s and children’s protection, integrating Ebola-related protection concerns in areas where IRC supports primary health care services. 

With more than 13 million people in need of aid, DRC is one of the world’s most complex, chronic and long-standing humanitarian crises. The IRC has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 responding to the humanitarian crisis in the east. It has since evolved into one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance and post-conflict development, with life-saving programming in health, economic recovery, women’s and children protection, and livelihoods.

In Uganda, the IRC is working to strengthen disease surveillance and outbreak response in high-risk border districts and ensure provision of high-quality, life-saving, primary healthcare services for Congolese new arrivals and Uganda host communities.

For more information and to schedule interviews, please contact: Kellie Ryan, senior global communications officer at Kellie.Ryan [at] rescue.org.

To download photos of the IRC’s Ebola response in DRC and Uganda, click here.

For more information on the IRC’s Ebola response, click here.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.