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Crossing Borders﹕Ebola outbreak in DRC

【明報專訊】The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is having its tenth Ebola outbreak and it is estimated to continue until next year. Ever since the first discovery of Ebola virus in 1976 in what is now the DRC near the Ebola River, the outbreaks have appeared sporadically(斷斷續續地). However, it is the first time that an Ebola epidemic has occurred in an area of conflict. As such, there were practical challenges in mounting the response. In the past two months, the epicentres have spread over the northeastern DRC.

In May this year, an Ebola outbreak was declared in Equateur province. The outbreak was then under control and ended on 24 July. However, just one week after, another Ebola epidemic took place in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, and later further spread over the northeastern DRC.

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever. It is a severe, often fatal illness in humans, with a mortality rate of up to 90%. The initial symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and rash, which are nonspecific to Ebola viruses, and thus make it difficult to be diagnosed clinically. There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for Ebola.

Amid the West African Ebola outbreak, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had been responding to the crisis since March 2014 It was not until August that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Ebola epidemic a public health emergency of international concern, which was far too late. In the end, the crisis lasted for nearly two years and ended in June 2016. Over 10,000 patients were admitted to our Ebola management centres during the epidemic, 5,201 of which were confirmed Ebola cases. That is a third of all WHO confirmed cases.

The current Ebola outbreak in the DRC was officially declared on 1 August 2018, but it is suspected that the cases appeared much earlier than August. In October, the WHO raised its concern over the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC but refused to declare it a global health emergency. History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce(鬧劇). To avoid another tragedy, the international community should learn a lesson from the outbreak in 2014 and respond further to the crisis.

- by Médecins Sans Frontières

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