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WHO announces end to Ebola outbreak in Congo

WHO announces end to Ebola outbreak in Congo
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The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday announced the end to the 11th Ebola outbreak in Congo.

The country's minister of health, Eteni Longondo, joined the WHO in a statement noting the first time the virus has been eradicated from the nation in over two years. A total of 119 confirmed cases, 75 recoveries and 55 deaths were recorded over the duration of the latest outbreak.

The first cases of the deadly virus in this outbreak were reported in the Mbandaka area of Équateur Province in June of this year, nearly six months after the country was hit with the coronavirus. No new cases have been reported in 48 hours, the release stated.

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“Overcoming one of the world’s most dangerous pathogens in remote and hard to access communities demonstrates what is possible when science and solidarity come together,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said in the statement.

The eastern part of the country also experienced an epidemic that ended in June of this year and infected nearly 3,400 people, according to the WHO.

“This 11th Ebola virus epidemic has had the particularity of spreading much more to river and lake health zones,” Longondo said. “This constituted a major logistical challenge in terms of the implementation of response activities in a health system already weakened by previous epidemics and by a weak involvement of the community.”

The most recent outbreak marked the fifth time for the Équateur Province, which was also the site of the country's ninth overall outbreak. Officials said that they are working to secure strengthened surveillance for epidemics in the area and have learned new information that they can also apply to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The technology used to keep the Ebola vaccine at super-cold temperatures will be helpful when bringing a COVID-19 vaccine to Africa," Moeti said. "Tackling Ebola in parallel with COVID-19 hasn’t been easy, but much of the expertise we’ve built in one disease is transferable to another and underlines the importance of investing in emergency preparedness and building local capacity.”

Health officials were able to vaccinate a total of 40,000 people despite the challenges they faced, WHO said.

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The secretary general of Congo's Red Cross, Jacques Katshishi, said that the goal now is to maintain control of the Ebola virus.

“Bringing Ebola to zero is a huge achievement, but now we are faced with our next challenge: keeping it there. Our teams within the DRC Red Cross are facing COVID-19 within a complex humanitarian and security environment,” he said. “This is not a moment to be complacent: the world cannot afford a resurgence of Ebola in DR Congo. The time to prepare is now.”

— Updated at 9:04 a.m.