Yesterday marked 42 days since the last detected case of the virus, the length of two incubation periods considered long enough to declare an outbreak over.
The flare-up, first detected in the rural village of Ikoko Impenge in northwest Congo in April, was dealt with rapidly by the World Health Organisation and Congolese authorities, including the deployment of an experimental vaccine given to over 3300 people.
That helped contain the impact of the virus even when it reached the city of Mbandaka, a crowded trading hub of 1.5 million people on the Congo River with direct boat and plane links to the capital Kinshasa.
“I declare from this day the end of the Ebola epidemic in Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of Congo,” Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said.
Ebola, believed to be spread over long distances by bats, causes haemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. It is spread via direct contact with bodily fluids. It often spreads to humans via infected bush meat.
Its arrival in Mbandaka in May turned the outbreak into an international concern as airports in West Africa set up Ebola screenings reminiscent of the epidemic that killed at least 11300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2013 and 2016.
But despite the deaths, the containment of this latest outbreak, Congo’s ninth since the virus was detected near the Ebola River in the 1970s, was considered a success.
The vaccine had to be kept at -60°C to -80°C in remote parts of a humid country with unreliable power supplies. Informed, signed consent was required from every person who wanted the shot, raising language and cultural barriers.
“WHO moved quickly and efficiently,” said the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti. “Dozens of experts from Guinea spent weeks leading Ebola vaccination efforts here.”
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said the outbreak was brought to an end earlier than expected because of the rapid response. - Reuters