May 22, 2017 | The Editors

Breaking story: Ebola in DR Congo

We’re part of a coordinated response in the DR Congo addressing a new Ebola outbreak. Here’s the latest on an emerging story.
A timeline of response activities during the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A timeline of response activities during the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Illustration: World Health Organization (WHO).

May 22: $14 million needed to respond to Ebola outbreak

The latest World Health Organization (WHO) situation update reports that 43 people have been identified with suspected Ebola virus disease with four deaths confirmed. The disease remains confined to the Likati Health Zone, in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Response teams are now involved with surveillance activities throughout the area to determine if and where there are more cases of Ebola.

WHO also confirmed that 362 individuals remain under daily monitoring for signs and symptoms of Ebola. Another 54 completed the follow-up period and are considered Ebola-free.

To control the outbreak, the DRC government is requesting $14 million from the global community for a comprehensive national response plan. In response, WHO and partners are developing a strategic plan to coordinate the support of international partners and stakeholders.

Meanwhile, infrastructure and other logistical barriers remain a challenge. A mobile lab in the town of Likati is processing samples from those suspected with Ebola. Another mobile lab is on its way to a more rural area so lab samples can be processed in the field.

PATH and our partners are working with provincial authorities on community awareness efforts to notify people about the outbreak and how to avoid spreading the disease.

Scroll down to view PATH’s role in the response efforts during this rapidly changing situation.

A group of motorcyclists travel across a bridge.
PATH arranged for a group of first responders—three doctors, a lab technician, and a communications officer—to travel to the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in northern DRC. The area is so remote that travel took three days and required a flight from the capital city, Kinshasa, to the city of Kisangani and a long drive by 4WD vehicle over nearly impassable roads to the town of Lukati, where the closest hospital to the outbreak is stationed. From there, they are traveling by motorcycle and foot to the villages where Ebola is spreading. Photo: Courtesy Democratic Republic of the Congo Ministry of Health.

May 19: First responders are on the ground

As officials arrive at the epicenter of the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Likati Health Zone in northern DRC, the latest World Health Organization (WHO) reports show a rise in confirmed cases.

A helicopter with supplies and the first five responders was flown into the area by WHO, followed by a second group coordinated and supported by PATH.

Now that the first responders are on the ground, work is focused on fanning out into largely unmapped territory to assess how far the disease has spread and to identify people who may have been exposed and potentially infected by the virus. In addition, Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has set up an Ebola treatment center at the Likati General Hospital, and health workers have been given protective gear.

PATH is now focused on helping to build communication networks as quickly as possible in an area with almost no electricity or connectivity.

May 17: Ebola confirmed in the DRC

Map showing the Likati health district in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This map shows the Likati health district where the Ebola outbreak was confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). PATH is a leading partner in the Global Health Security Agenda initiative work in the DRC with the Ministry of Health, working closely to establish an emergency operations center and geospatial mapping capabilities. Illustration: UCLA.

Late last week, PATH received unofficial reports of an Ebola outbreak in the Likati Health Zone of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a difficult-to-reach area near the Central African Republic border. By Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that three people had already lost their lives to the deadly virus, with nine more infected.

Within 24 hours, PATH was working alongside partners at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), DRC Research program and our in-country partners to notify and engage DRC government officials, provide supplies and equipment, and prep and transport teams to the field to investigate the outbreak. A coalition of other organizations, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are also actively engaged in supporting the government’s response.

Currently, we are helping transport Ministry officials to the Likati Health Zone, providing GPS-enabled phones for use by frontline health workers for case identification and contact tracing, and offering technical assistance to the DRC government through its disease surveillance commission. PATH helped mobilize a cross-sector group of international partners to support the government with high-resolution satellite imagery, geospatial mapping capabilities, and other tools to help map and investigate the outbreak.

We are also working with partners in the DRC to accelerate the launch of a new emergency operations center in order to coordinate the response in public health emergencies such as this Ebola outbreak.

Our world is highly connected. Outbreaks like this one illustrate the global urgency to prepare against pandemic threats. Since 2015, PATH has been a grantee under the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), an initiative funded by the CDC. PATH works with governments and other partners in over 50 countries, contributing to overall global health security objectives to ensure each country is equipped to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks.

What’s happening now

We have engaged partners such as DigitalGlobe and drone experts at WeRobotics to help pinpoint the outbreak and its spread. For instance, DigitalGlobe is repositioning satellites to provide real-time, high-resolution imagery of the affected area to our partners so health officials can quickly respond to cases and contacts.

WeRobotics offered to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) to help obtain even higher-resolution imagery from the specific area where cases are occurring. By June, WeRobotics may be able to supply longer-range drones capable of transporting light-weight cargo to assist in the rapid delivery of medical supplies. These tactics depend on a range of factors, however, such as size of coverage area, flight permissions, funding, duration, and other variables.

We’ll continue to share updates as our work addressing the current Ebola outbreak continues in the DRC. Our thoughts are with the health responders, the families, and the communities affected by the challenges brought on by this outbreak.

How you can help

It takes technology, partnerships, and funding to make responses like this possible.

  • Consider signing up to help map out these remote areas via Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT).
  • Funding is needed to fuel the response and strengthen the systems needed to address the outbreak. Help us stop the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo. Donate now.
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