The Chronicle

Democratic Republic of Congo health officials said on Monday they were “keeping fingers crossed” to declare the end of the devastating 19-month epidemic next month.

While the world’s attention has been focused on the coronavirus, the last patient under treatment for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was discharged yesterday.

If no more cases are diagnosed, the epidemic will officially end on April 12, or 42 days from the date of the last confirmed patient’s second negative test.

“Today, March 9 is the 21st day without any new confirmed case,” said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is in charge of the Ebola fight.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that until then, there are no incidents,” he told a news conference.

“The greatest challenge for us today is to follow up on survivors because some continue to secrete the virus in their seminal fluids,” he said, adding that they were being treated to avoid infecting their partners.

DR Congo’s most recent Ebola outbreak was first identified in August 2018, and WHO declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” last July.

It has killed 2 264 people in DRC in the vast central African country’s 10th Ebola epidemic since 1976.

It is the second-most deadly Ebola epidemic in history, after an outbreak killed more than 11 000 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

Since that time, the health authorities have gained a more powerful weapon against the disease: vaccination. Nearly 320 000 people have been vaccinated so far in DRC.

WHO yesterday said it was “encouraged” by an improvement in the Ebola situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo but urged caution.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee of experts will be meeting in Geneva today to discuss whether the Ebola outbreak still constitutes a global health emergency.

“Although the world is now focused on coronavirus, we cannot and must not forget Ebola,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

We’re very encouraged by the current trend. There have only been three cases in the past week and no cases in the past three days,” Tedros said.

But he added: “It’s not over. Any single case could reignite the epidemic.”

Tedros said he would be travelling to DRC tomorrow and meeting with President Felix Tshisekedi.

“We’re still in full response mode,” he said, pointing to the “very fragile” security situation in eastern parts of DRC, where several militia groups operate, and the need to strengthen the country’s health system.

The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.

The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90% in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.-News24.