John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ebola in the Congo

by John Campbell
August 26, 2014

Medical workers in protective clothings work in the Ebola isolation zone at a makeshift health clinic run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders at the village of Kampungu, near Kananga in western Kasai province in south-central Democratic Republic of Congo, some 700 km (435 miles) east of the capital Kinshasa, September 18, 2007. Medical workers in protective clothings work in the Ebola isolation zone at a makeshift health clinic run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders at the village of Kampungu, near Kananga in western Kasai province in south-central Democratic Republic of Congo, some 700 km (435 miles) east of the capital Kinshasa, September 18, 2007.

The health minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Felix Kabange Numbi, has announced an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the remote Equateur province. Two cases have been confirmed by the ministry. The authorities have moved quickly to isolate the village where the disease was found.

The DRC outbreak appears to be unrelated to Ebola in west Africa. The DRC strain of the virus is much less deadly, with a mortality rate of about 20 percent, rather than up to 90 percent in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea.

The eastern part of the DRC has been the venue of almost constant warfare for nearly a generation. Infrastructure, including hospitals, has largely collapsed. The region would appear to be ripe for a new outbreak of Ebola. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, seventy people have died over the past two weeks from hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. But, that is not Ebola.

The DRC has had long experience with responding to Ebola. There have been six outbreaks of the disease since it was first discovered in 1976. As recently as 2012, Ebola killed thirty-six people in the DRC.

In west Africa, Ebola was new. Medical personnel initially failed to recognize it, and protocols for responding to it were not in place. In the DRC, experience made a difference. Because the authorities are familiar with the disease, protocols were in place. They have moved quickly to isolate it. They set up a laboratory in the affected village to verify the Ebola cases, and they have banned the hunting of “bush meat,” small animals, including monkeys, that can harbor the disease and transmit it to humans. Unlike in west Africa, the DRC outbreak has occurred in a rural area, making isolation of the disease much less difficult than in, say, the teeming slums of Monrovia.

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