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IRC launches response to Ebola outbreak in DRC as new assessment finds massive need amidst COVID pandemic

Just as the two year long outbreak in eastern DRC was declared over, a new outbreak emerged in the west, so far taking the lives of 50 people. The IRC is now on the ground working to stop the spread of the disease.

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As Ebola continues to spread in western DRC with 124 cases and 50 deaths, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is launching an initial response to the outbreak to stop the spread of the disease. Based on the findings of a new IRC assessment, the IRC is working to prevent infection of patients and health workers, provide water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and engage the community to stop the spread of the disease. 

Borry Jatta, DRC Country Director at the International Rescue Committee, said, “We are alarmed that the new outbreak continues to take the lives of the people of DRC at a high rate, with more than 40% of the 124 people infected dying from the disease. The impact of this outbreak is compounded by the complex logistical challenges in the rural areas around Mbandaka, and a challenging situation in DRC as communities struggle to recover from years of poor health infrastructure, a previous Ebola outbreak in 2018 in the same area, and now the COVID pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 270 people in the country. With a recent Ebola case on the border with the Republic of Congo, this outbreak could spread across international borders.”

“There is a lot of misinformation and rumors surrounding the outbreak, and with the disease’s high death rate, many are afraid to seek treatment at an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) due to skepticism about nontraditional healing and its safety.  According to health care workers, the hospital which refers potential cases to the ETC has seen a 40 percent drop in consultations since the declaration of the outbreak.”

“These challenges currently arising in Equateur are ones we also faced in the Eastern DRC Ebola outbreak. The IRC calls for all actors to apply these lessons learned to this new response. Most importantly, we found that interventions must be immediate and accessible, and that early community engagement is critical. We know that women and girls are particularly vulnerable during this kind of outbreak and all actors must prioritise their safety and protection in Mbandka, as elsewhere in the world.”

“In all the health facilities in the Mbandaka health zone, our assessment found that there are not enough partners supporting measures to prevent infection of patients and health workers or providing water and sanitation services to health facilities. Traditional healers have received little support yet they are the primary health points for the majority of the community​, exposing them and the rest of the community to Ebola and COVID amidst a strain on health infrastructure during the pandemic. That’s why the IRC is immediately ramping up support for these facilities. With more funding, the IRC can grow its programming in Equateur province and help mitigate the spread of Ebola.”

The IRC responded to the recent Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri working in more than 90 health facilities in Beni, Mabalako, Butembo, Goma and in southwest Ituri, and continues to lead on infection prevention and control (IPC) against COVID-19 in the area. The IRC also works in women’s and children’s protection and community engagement. The IRC has a long-standing presence in the North Kivu province and continues to equally address pre-existing and persistent health and protection needs related to displacement and insecurity in this area now struggling to recover from the Ebola outbreak and facing the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

The IRC has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996 responding to the humanitarian crisis in the east and is currently active in five provinces. 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’s protection, and livelihoods. 

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 over 20 U.S. cities 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.