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1,800 lives lost as Ebola outbreak reaches one year in Congo

AS today marks one year since the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in the country, more than 2,600 cases were confirmed with over 1,800 deaths.

The outbreak had been declared a public health emergency of international concern on July 17 when it kept spreading in Congo.

A new case of Ebola was confirmed on Tuesday in Goma, the second case was confirmed in July in Goma city that consists of more than one million people and shared a border with Rwanda.

“The disease is relentless and devastating,” said the United Nations (UN).

It is expressed in a  joint statement from WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UN Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, and World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley published on Wednesday to mark the one year.

The United Nations agencies said the latest case happened in a dense population centre which underscored the very real risk of spreading beyond the country’s borders. They added that there are urgent needs for a strengthened global response and increased donor investment.

They praised healthcare workers, mostly Congolese, working on the front line in the affected communities, describing their actions as “heroic efforts”.

“Despite their ceaseless work, the disease continues to spread,” said the agencies.

While 2,600 people were confirmed to have Ebola, the UN agencies said almost one in three cases was a child where each had gone through “an unimaginable ordeal”.

Ebola is a close contact disease. It passes from mother to child, husband to wife, patient to caregiver, as well from the dead body of a victim to the mourning relative.

“The disease turns the most mundane aspects of everyday life upside down — hurting local businesses, preventing children from going to school and hampering vital and routine health services,” UN explained the transmission’s impact.

“The challenges of stopping further transmission are indeed considerable. But none are insurmountable,” they added.

There is a vaccine for ebola but in Congo, not everybody is vaccinated. Of the 87 million Congolese, slightly above 170,000 people were vaccinated.

The Ebola outbreak in Congo had occurred in an active conflict zone which had made the response far more complicated because of insecurity. The UN said the health workers and facilities were usually on armed attacks.

“In some of the affected areas, violence is preventing us from reaching communities and working with them to stop further transmission,” said UN agencies.

They called on all parties to the violence to ensure that responders could do their work safely and that those seeking care could access it without fear of attacks.

“At this critical juncture, we reaffirm our collective commitment to the people of the DRC; we mourn for those we have lost, and we call for solidarity to end this outbreak,” they noted.

The global agencies said they were proud of their work so far with the support of the Congolese government to protect those at risk, and care for those affected.

Outlining their achievements, the statement included that 77 million of both national and international travellers were screened, over 440 thousand patients and contacts were provided with food assistance which was crucial to limiting movement among people who could spread the disease.

It also noted that more than 10,000 handwashing sites were installed in locations marked critical and more than 25,000 school-children in ebola-affected areas were provided food everyday to help build trust within communities.

“Now we must build on those achievements, but to do so we urgently need far more support from the international community,” UN said.

For 100 per cent of the cases to be treated, the agencies said it required “an exceptional level of investment.”

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