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Press Release

Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could be worst ever in East Africa

  • With a total of 112 confirmed and probable cases and 75 deaths, the outbreak’s toll is already high
  • The recent spread of Ebola to Oicha, an area surrounded by multiple armed groups, poses significant logistical and security management challenges
  • The IRC is distressed about a potential repeat of the 2014 Ebola outbreak if immediate and sufficient international response is not forthcoming
  • In some areas, local communities have resisted follow up of contacts as well as safe burials - critical for outbreak control
  • The IRC is supporting 37 health facilities in North Kivu to strengthen infection control practices, and put in a system for triage, isolation, and referral of suspected Ebola cases

Ebola virus in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, continues to spread at a rapid and alarming rate. With 112 confirmed and probable cases and 75 deaths, the case fatality ratio is high, and health workers face heightened risk due to increased exposure. The outbreak, which was declared on August 1st, has now spread to Oicha health zone, an area almost entirely surrounded by armed militants, making the delivery of health services even more challenging.  The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is supporting 37 health facilities in North Kivu to strengthen infection control practices, and put in a system for triage, isolation, and referral of suspected Ebola cases.

Michelle Gayer, Senior Director of Emergency Health at the International Rescue Committee, said: “With more than fifty armed groups operating in North Kivu, many areas are inaccessible to aid groups due to insecurity. Beni itself was the deadliest territory of the Kivus this month with 33 violent deaths of civilians recorded. If someone contracts Ebola in one of these areas, there is almost no way of knowing and, therefore, no way of cutting the chain of transmission. The news of two confirmed cases in Oicha is extremely distressing, because the area is almost entirely surrounded by armed militants. The IRC has health staff working in the area who have been trained in proper protocols should they receive a suspected case.

"The international community should be learning from 2014, when the worst Ebola outbreak in modern history swept across West Africa. Without a swift, concerted and efficient response, this outbreak has the potential to be the worst ever seen in East Africa — and risks being an encore of history we simply cannot afford. Just like in the 2014 pandemic, community sensitization is of the utmost importance.

"North Kivu is one of the most populous provinces in the country with 8 million inhabitants, bordering with four other provinces and both Uganda and Rwanda. We know the community is resisting changes to traditional burial practices and fear bringing affected loved ones to health clinics. We must counteract these myths immediately to stymie the spread of the disease. Safe burials protect everyone in the community. The earlier patients are treated, the higher their survival. And the earlier their contacts are vaccinated, the more they are protected. ”

The IRC has been operating in the DRC since 1996 and is a lead humanitarian actor in North Kivu, providing healthcare, women’s protection and empowerment, reproductive health, and child protection to hundreds of thousands of people affected by conflict. The IRC mobilized an Ebola response within hours of the announcement of the outbreak and is strengthening infection control practices and providing protective equipment and supplies to 37 health facilities, as well as training and mentoring ministry of health staff to identify, isolate and refer suspected cases. Via existing teams in the area, the IRC is also educating the community about the Ebola virus and highlighting the necessary precautions and steps to take if symptoms occur.

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. More than one million displaced people live in North Kivu alone, a province caught in longstanding violence at the hands of militias and tribal groups which has led to the breakdown of critical government systems. With this combination of insecurity, community resistance and failing health institutions, this outbreak poses incredibly worrying risks to an extremely vulnerable region. The international community, including donors, must act now.

 

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 28 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.