By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News
(LONDON) — The second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history was declared over Thursday, almost two years after the first case was confirmed.
An outbreak of the Ebola virus, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever, emerged in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August 2018 and rapidly spread across three provinces, infecting 3,470 people — 28% of them children — and killing 2,277 of them, according to health officials.
It was the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe there since 1976, when scientists first identified the virus near the eponymous Ebola River. It was also one of the worst on record anywhere, second only to the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in multiple West African nations that infected 28,652 people and killed 11,325.
The country’s health minster, Dr. Eteni Longondo, declared an end to the epidemic on Thursday, after no new cases were reported 42 days since the last patient was tested negative for the disease and discharged from the hospital.
“Compared to previous outbreaks, this last one was the longest, the most complex and the deadliest,” Longondo told reporters.
As the first Ebola outbreak to occur in an active conflict zone, the efforts to halt the spread of the virus were particularly challenging. Health workers trying to reach remote hotspots faced sporadic attacks by armed groups operating near the country’s volatile, mineral-rich border with Uganda.
The World Health Organization, the health arm of the United Nations, designated the outbreak a global health emergency, describing it as more complex than the deadlier 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa due to the region’s insecurity, political instability and highly mobile population as well as the community’s mistrust in health workers and the spread of misinformation.
“It wasn’t easy and, at times, it seemed like a mission impossible,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement Thursday. “Ending this Ebola outbreak is a sign of hope for the region and the world that with solidarity and science and courage and commitment, even the most challenging epidemics can be controlled.”
Experimental Ebola vaccines and treatments approved for use in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed promise in fighting the epidemic and saving lives.
The 22-month-long response, led by the Congolese government with support from the WHO and partners, involved training thousands of health workers, registering 250,000 contacts, testing 220,000 samples, providing patients with equitable access to advanced therapeutics, vaccinating over 303,000 people and offering care for survivors after their recovery.
“The outbreak took so much from all of us, especially from the people of DRC, but we came out of it with valuable lessons and valuable tools. The world is now better-equipped to respond to Ebola. A vaccine has been licensed, and effective treatments identified,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement Thursday. “We should celebrate this moment, but we must resist complacency. Viruses do not take breaks. Ultimately, the best defense against any outbreak is investing in a stronger health system as the foundation for universal health coverage.”
However, the Central African nation still faces major health challenges — a deadly measles outbreak, the rising threat of COVID-19 and a new Ebola outbreak that’s emerged in the northwest.
The latest Ebola outbreak — the country’s 11th on record — has so far infected 24 people in Equateur province and killed at least 13 of them since it was announced on June 1, according to health officials.
“Today is the greatest day,” Dr. Deogratious Wonya’rossi, a Congolese public health physician who was part of the Ebola response in the east, told ABC News in a text message Thursday. “But unfortunately it’s still killing people in the western region.”
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