Save the Children welcomes the decision by the WHO to declare the Ebola outbreak that has been raging in DRC for nearly a year a public health emergency of international concern. This is the time to prevent the virus from spreading any further and for that, the international community must urgently scale up its response and support to the affected countries, Save the Children warns.
Ian Vale, Save the Children’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa said:
“In the last few days this already devastating epidemic has got dangerously close to spreading out of control. A woman showing Ebola symptoms in Uganda died after returning to DRC. And there was a case in Goma, a bustling transport hub of one million people on the Rwandan border.
“In both cases the authorities have prepared well and acted quickly. But even if these cases do not immediately lead to more, they show that so long as Ebola remains unchecked at the outbreak’s epicentre in war-torn eastern DRC it will pose a deadly threat to the country and its neighbours.
“Hundreds of children have already been killed and thousands of lives have been destroyed. And it’s the youngest that are hardest hit. 40% of children who have contracted the disease are under the age of five[i].
“Today’s declaration is the strongest possible call to action. It is recognition that only an immediate and urgent scale up of the response will ensure many lives are saved.”
More than 700 children have now contracted the disease in DRC. The fatality rate is around 67%[ii] – far higher than the 2014/15 outbreak in West Africa.
There are more than 100 armed groups operating in eastern DRC, where constant conflict and insecurity have hampered the response. There have been almost 200 attacks on health workers[iii].
Health workers have also had to overcome fear and misunderstanding of the disease. Children in DRC and Uganda have told Save the Children teams that they thought the disease was spread by health workers carrying out vaccinations, or caused by witchcraft.
Hundreds of government and NGO health workers are already working round the clock to stem the outbreak in incredibly difficult circumstances. Save the Children is calling for more investment in local community outreach and information campaigns to make sure children and adults have accurate information about how to prevent the spread of the disease. International donors need to back national government responses in the affected countries.
This Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC, was declared on 1 August 2018. Since then, Save the Children has reached around 1 million people in the country with information on how to recognise symptoms and how to keep the disease from spreading. The aid agency provides infection prevention control equipment to health workers and train them how to use it; it builds triages at the entrances of hospitals and health centres to ensure any patients presenting with Ebola symptoms are isolated; it works with community leaders and health workers to do surveillance and contact tracing and, most importantly it engages in dialogue with the communities that we work with to get their views on how best to end this deadly outbreak.
In Uganda, Save the Children has been working with local communities and district authorities to help mitigate the spread of the outbreak. More than 1,000 Ugandan health workers, volunteers, teachers, village health teams and laboratory staff have so far been trained to prevent and respond to cases. Save the Children has also distributed prevention materials in health facilities, border crossings and installed handwashing facilities to reduce the risk of contamination. The aid agency is also carrying out community dialogues and radio campaigns to spread information.
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