Amid efforts to suppress the coronavirus effects, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now facing its 11th outbreak of Ebola since the discovery of the disease in 1976. The current outbreak officially began on June 1, 2020 — causing 24 deaths and garnering the attention of government officials and international agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The start of this outbreak coincides with the end of the 10th outbreak, which finished just 25 days earlier. Further complicating the latest outbreak is the fact that it comes when much of the international world is focusing on protecting themselves against the spread of the new coronavirus. As a result, there is an Ebola outbreak funding gap for what is required to sufficiently protect citizens of the DRC from the further spread of Ebola.
The WHO reports that the $1.75 million raised so far will not last long enough to end the current outbreak. The organization estimates that the money will only last a few more weeks and that the unique location of the outbreak (in a more forested part of the country) is too costly to regularly send health officials.
This lack of funding could be a step backward for the country’s progress in limiting the disease. An outbreak in 2018 killed only 33 people, but from 2014 to 2016, 11,000 people died as a result of the disease. The main difference between the two time periods was the level of preparation and emergency funds to rely on, both of which are now decreasing due to the estimated gap.
The funding gap could have a direct impact on the current outbreak and may become a significant factor in the potential for new outbreaks. E.g., the recurrence of outbreaks is due to the virus’s presence in animals across the country. Therefore, there will most likely be another outbreak for which the WHO needs to be prepared.
Help from the United States?
The United States has donated more than $600 million to prevent the spread and minimize the devastation of previous outbreaks of the disease, in the DRC. This money has gone to building and managing health facilities, tracking the spread of the disease and evolving several safety measures for the country’s citizens. Those funds also went toward developing the two effective vaccines for Ebola and for transferring the dosages to citizens in need. Only a fraction of this money could make up for the lack of funding that the western part of the DRC needs today. Still, with most efforts and donations going toward coronavirus relief — very little attention has been placed on the current outbreak. This lack of attention contributes to the existing Ebola outbreak funding gap.
Looming Threats and Remaining Vigilant
A great challenge with this disease is that it could spread rapidly in the absence of a vaccine. Health officials typically vaccinate using a ring method — meaning they treat people that are near the center of the disease. Without the funds needed to disseminate the vaccine, the country’s infection rates could go up dramatically.
Officials are aware of this potential future, as the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus states, “This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face. Although much of the world’s attention is on the pandemic, the WHO is continuing to monitor and respond to many other health emergencies.” Some are urging other countries and organizations to take on this mindset. Aid from the United States could prove a significant help in preventing loss of life in the DRC by closing the Ebola outbreak funding gap.
– Aiden Farr