By Gabriel-Eddie Njoroge

Thanks to the efforts by the United Nations (UN) and the determination of health workers on the ground, the fight against ebola in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) continues to make headway. This is despite the insecurity challenges that still hamper the response, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) leading to the UN establishing a new coordination structure in the hopes that access to at-risk areas can be improved.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase over the past few months in the number of security incidents in the area of North Kivu, which lies at the epicenter of this ebola outbreak,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, to journalists in Geneva as she recalled the brutal killing of a WHO colleague. She also added that another attack took place on Saturday in which another health worker was killed.

Ebola station
Credits: World Bank

There have been 174 attacks against health care facilities or workers in 2019 so far. That is a three-fold increase compared to the number of attacks that took place during the previous five-month period- August to December 2018.

“Insecurity really is what is making the response to this ebola outbreak so challenging and also so unpredictable,” Moeti insisted. “And this insecurity leads to a lack of access and that is really what is driving the increase in cases. When the response can’t reach people, they don’t get the chance to be vaccinated or to receive life-saving treatments if they do fall ill.”

The DRC’s worst ever outbreak of the deadly virus, currently, has seen 1,920 ebola cases overall, this is including 1,281 deaths. The more than 700 workers deployed by WHO remain in the area working alongside other health teams providing care, despite the risks.

“This ebola response is one of the most complex health emergencies the world has faced,” said Dr. Moeti, explaining that:“the authority of the Government is not strong, and what further complicates the situation is that there are many belligerents and armed groups and parties, and it’s not always clear under whose leadership they are operating.”

This week, the Deputy head of the DRC peacekeeping mission, David Gressly, who has been newly appointed as the UN Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator, will be arriving in the city of Butembo, at the Epicenter of the outbreak, to strengthen the coordination of the response and create a much more enabling environment.

Also amongst his other objectives, will be to help to strengthen the DRC Government’s engagement around security, in a bid to reconcile various warring parties in the area. Also in parallel, a scale-up of operations in the region from health and humanitarian organizations is also expected.

“I’m hopeful that this new structure will bring the much-needed stability, safety and clarity, and enable the response to proceed,” said Dr. Moeti.

Thanks to adequate care, more than 500 people have survived, to date. Particularly, transmissions in medical centers which represented 35percent of all transmissions just a few weeks ago, which are currently at 5 percent.

“That number is still too high, we still want to reach for zero,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, chief of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.

Enhanced community engagement efforts continue to be put in place with 21 community Ebola committees in place so far, and vaccinations are also ongoing thanks to pop-up centers. Currently, 95 per cent of people offered vaccinations are accepting them and 90 per cent of families are agreeing to safe and dignified burials.

Efforts in improving the surveillance and tracing of cases are also showing progress with 1,400 alerts per day on average, a number that was only half of those six weeks ago, Dr. Ryan explained. Also increasing steadily, is the number of samples taken daily for laboratory analysis with the proportion of positive cases decreasing.

“In another encouraging sign, Monday was the first day in a very long time that we had zero positive cases among community deaths,” said Dr. Ryan as he gave credit to the brave frontline workers who he applauded for risking their lives each day to do the work and the communities who are very much engaged and participating in the response.