It is one year ago this week that the Ebola virus disease outbreak, in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was declared.
This first year Ebola anniversary is not a milestone we ever wanted to mark.
But it is a moment to reflect on the lessons we’ve learnt over the past year.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, WHO and partners’ response has continually evolved to adapt to the situation as it unfolds on the ground. We have seen bright spots where places which used to be the hub for cases like Butembo have found their case numbers dwindle. But unfortunately, we sometimes see these areas flare up again. And one adaptation we have learnt is to work very closely with communities and with local health authorities to strengthen local capacity to detect and monitor Ebola cases, and essentially to lead the response.
This anniversary is a time for us to remember the lives lost to this Ebola outbreak.
As a health community, we have mourned the deaths of seven of our own in the 198 attacks on health-care workers that we have documented. An additional 58 health-care workers and patients have been injured. This violence is a reminder that this outbreak is one with unprecedented challenges.
With this difficult environment, responders have shown immense dedication and I’d particularly like to say how immensely proud I am of the commitment and courage of everyone who has been working in the field.
Over the last year, WHO has deployed more than 700 international experts, including our own staff, as part of the surge capacity needed to respond to the outbreak. More than 70% of these experts have come from the African Region.
This shows the solidarity that the countries on the continent have embraced and their readiness to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo in its fight against this Ebola outbreak.
It is also an indication that they have confidence in the effectiveness of the response led by the DRC Government and supported by WHO and its partners.
We have an effective vaccine which has no doubt played an important role in limiting the spread of the outbreak, notwithstanding the complexity of the context in which we are responding.
We are encouraged to see that after the WHO Director-General declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC as a public health emergency of international concern, not a single Member State in Africa has closed its borders or placed restrictions on travel or trade linked to the Ebola outbreak.
As this outbreak enters its second year, the concern is that it will extend into the nine countries neighbouring the DRC. Already there have been three imported cases into Uganda and cases close to the border with South Sudan. There have been two cases in Goma which is close to Rwanda and which is the DRC’s gateway to the rest of the world.
During the past year, WHO and partners have supported governments in the nine neighbouring countries to build their preparedness capacity. In particular, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are the countries at highest risk and they have been implementing preparedness measures including vaccination of front-line workers, setting up Ebola treatment centres and strengthening detection and confirmation capacity of potential Ebola cases.
In these four priority countries more than 3000 health workers have been trained on early case detection and reporting, and screening at major points of entry – and I had the opportunity to visit a couple – which has led to the detection and investigation of over 1100 alerts.
In collaboration with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and partners, a new preparedness plan has been developed, with a budget of US$ 63.9 million. This is included in the new Strategic Response Plan 4 (SRP 4) which is being finalized by the DRC Government, WHO and partners. This preparedness plan will be used to mobilize additional resources for implementing preparedness in the nine countries neighbouring the DRC over the next six months. We strongly urge donors and partners to support this preparedness which will stop the eventual epidemic in many of the countries and prevent the spending of the hundreds of millions of dollars that are needed for such a response.
With the new strategic plan, WHO is looking forward to a more united approach where under the leadership of the DRC Government, the UN, NGOs and other partners take greater responsibility for areas of the response in which they have the expertise.
Each Ebola outbreak is a health crisis that requires an all of society – and all partner —response. Ultimately, as our Director-General Dr Tedros has said, Ebola will continue to spread, alongside malaria, measles, cholera, polio, so long as the people of the DRC and other countries do not have stronger health systems, access to clean water, roads, education and all the other building blocks of a healthy society. At the one-year mark, we commit to continue to accelerate our efforts, we mourn for those that have been lost, and we call for solidarity to end this outbreak.
United and leveraging our different strengths we can end this outbreak.