SEATTLE, Washington — Lately, mass media coverage of the coronavirus has greatly overshadowed the progress in improving the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The World Health Organization has reported recent important updates about the virus that should not be overshadowed. The reports say that the second-largest Ebola pandemic in history is improving.
Decreasing the Number of Cases
WHO also reports that there were 18 confirmed cases of Ebola between January 15 and February 4. These cases happened in the North Kivu Province, Beni, and Mabalako regions. These cases have decreased significantly from an average of 14 cases per week at the end of 2019. So far, there have been 3,429 cases and 2,251 deaths.
The outbreak is centered in the northeast region of North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There have also been reported cases in South Kivo. Efforts have mostly contained the outbreak to DRC territory, but it had previously spread to Uganda and Goma. However, there have not been any new cases in those countries since last summer. The geographic spread of the virus has been shrinking.
WHO’s regional director of Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, recently reported on the feeling of optimism in the country by saying, “what I can say with a great deal of hope and optimism […] the number of cases per day is very much reduced than they were a few weeks ago, soon after we had some violent attacks and had to stop essentially the interventions in the hotspots in the DRC.”
LexisNexis data shows that during the first full month of the coronavirus outbreak more than 41,000 English articles featured the word “coronavirus”. Comparatively, during the first month of the latest Ebola outbreak, merely 1,800 English articles contained the word “Ebola.”
Paul Levinson, professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, remarked that people are interested in more information about the coronavirus because the coronavirus is brand new, “nobody knows how the story ends.” Due to the mass coverage of the largest Ebola outbreak from 2014-2016, people might just see this outbreak as more of a sequel despite there still being a lot unknown about Ebola. Unlike previous Ebola outbreaks, there are many more tools doctors have such as an effective vaccine. There is also much more supportive care and access to treatment centers.
Mistrust in Medical Aid
Though there have been great leaps in healthcare, there is still a great amount of mistrust of medical care workers by communities where the outbreak is present. This mistrust comes from deaths that still occur under medical supervision, not wanting outside medical workers in the community and many other complexities. This mistrust has even led to attacks on Ebola medical workers. In 2019, the United Nations reported that there were 300 attacks on Ebola workers. Attacks have killed six people and wounded 70. Alongside these attacks, treatment centers in Katwa and Butembo have also been targeted.
A breakthrough to community trust, however, has come from many women in outbreak communities. Women from the regions are more successful at educating communities about Ebola because they are trusted by community members. Thus, information about the virus coming from them is more likely to successful impact a community. Women have led door-to-door campaigns and radio shows among other informational methods. WHO has worked with women leaders from “Collectif des Associations Feminines (CAF), an umbrella association of about 45 local groups.” CAF is working to change the perception of the disease and the people trying to help.
Although the virus is coming to an end, it is still a serious health crisis. Improving the ebola outbreak is essential. The good news is that the number of cases is decreasing. Efforts from organizations like Doctors without Borders and CAF are helping to keep that number low.
– Emily Joy Oomen