“Forgotten” Ebola outbreak a warning to the world

Experts fear the dreaded Ebola virus has been “forgotten” as the second largest outbreak of the disease in history kills thousands in Africa.

Authorities are struggling to contain a year-old outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) amid concerns basic health-delivery principles are being ignored.

Government figures show the latest outbreak has killed 2,000 people.

Dr Kamalini Lokuge, from The Australian National University (ANU), who has worked on Ebola for more than a decade, says the solution is not just about vaccination.

“Ebola has been forgotten and the second largest outbreak in history is happening now,” said Dr Lokuge.

“The DRC has thousands of cases and people think we have solved this problem because there is a vaccine. But we haven’t solved it.

“The Congo is a place where Ebola could run away from us and we wouldn’t know it. If you stick a disease like Ebola into a warzone, like the DRC, you are not going to solve it with a vaccine.”

More than 3,000 confirmed cases have been reported in the DRC and Dr Lokuge warns the outbreak will continue without changing how it is managed.

“The vaccine is a good vaccine. But for it to work it has to be given to people, either before or very soon after they get exposed,” Dr Lokuge said.

“People are dying of Ebola and we don’t know how they got infected.

“We know how to control Ebola and the control of transmission is straightforward. We need to find people early, care for them and ensure safe burial practices. But that can’t be done in a country wracked by war.”  

Several Ebola care centres have been attacked since the outbreak started in August 2018 and there are safety challenges for health care workers deployed to the area.

“The DRC is a really good example of us ignoring the basic foundations of how you deliver an effective health service,” said Dr Lokuge.

“Ebola is not a particularly infectious disease. If you have the trust of the community, then control is possible.

“But if you don’t have trust you don’t get anywhere no matter how fancy your vaccination and protective equipment is.”

Dr Lokuge says political leaders across the world also need to take action.

“The DRC conflict is a breeding ground for Ebola,” she said.

“We are a small planet and infectious diseases mean we are completely connected. If everyone says it is not our problem it will eventually become everyone’s problem.”

To arrange interviews, contact Rachel Curtis on 0459 879 726 or the ANU Media Team on +61 2 6125 7979 or at media@anu.edu.au   

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