WHO Optimistic on Controlling DRC Ebola Outbreak

The World Health Organization’s regional chief for Africa reports prospects for rapidly controlling the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo are good.

While not underestimating the difficulties that lie ahead in bringing this latest outbreak of Ebola to an end, Matshidiso Moeti told VOA she is “very encouraged” by the speed with which the government and its national and international partners have responded to this crisis.

“I am quite optimistic because this is a government that is experienced at this, and which has got off to a very quick start and we are already on the ground with the partners.  

“We are getting logistic support from WFP (World Food Program) and from the U.N. mission.  So, I am quite optimistic,” Moeti said.

WHO has reported 29 suspected cases, including three deaths since Ebola was discovered in a remote region of DRC on April 22.   This deadly virus causes fever, bleeding, vomiting and diarrhea.  It spreads easily through bodily fluids and can kill more than 50 percent of its victims.

This is the eighth recorded outbreak of Ebola in DRC since 1976.  The outbreak was first detected in Bas-Uele Province, a densely-forested area in northeastern Congo near the border with the Central African Republic.

Outbreak isolated

Moeti calls the remoteness of the area “a mixed blessing.”

She said that there was little likelihood of a “rapid expansion of the outbreak to other localities due to population movement as happened in West Africa.  Although, we are keeping a close eye on the Central African Republic … where we are concerned that there is insecurity there.”

She said it was difficult to operate and carry out surveillance or investigations in this area because the road network leading there was not very well developed and “we have to drive long distances, not in a car, but have to use a motorbike.”

To remedy this, she said the government had fixed up a landing strip to enable helicopters to fly in the experts and material needed to deal with this crisis.

Moeti, a South African physician, replaced Luis Gomez Sambo of Angola as WHO regional head for Africa in January 2015 after he was criticized for his lackluster leadership in handling the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  

The World Health Organization has come under scathing criticism by the international community for its slow and inept response to that unprecedented epidemic.  By the time WHO declared the Ebola epidemic at an end in January 2016, the deadly virus had killed 11,315 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Experience put to use

During a recent visit to Kinshasa, Matshidiso Moeti said she saw how the hard lessons that have been learned from this tragic experience were being applied in DRC.

“What I observed was that the government itself was very quick in getting out to this remote area from the central level.  

“So, they sent a team from Kinshasa within a day or two of getting this alert to go and investigate and from the provincial level very rapidly, the government got down into this local area,” she said.

Moeti is leading a reform process to transform the WHO in the African Region into what she called a “more responsive, accountable, effective and transparent organization.”

She told VOA that this process was a component of WHO’s global reform effort and she would be rolling out the plan during a side-event on May 22, the opening day of this year’s World Health Assembly.

She said the reform program focused largely on how to improve measures for more quickly and efficiently tackling emergencies and communicable diseases.

“Clearly, as we saw very starkly with the Ebola outbreak, an outbreak can quickly transform into a big humanitarian crisis with all sorts of impacts.”

While the job of health reform is far from complete, Moeti said, “I am really pleased to say that we are starting to see how those changes that we have made are making a difference in how we operate.”



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