Ebola work in DRC coming to an end
6 November 2007
Kinshasa - It has been more than 21 days since the last person known to be infected with the Ebola virus has been in contact with other people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Kasai Occidental Province. The number of new patients admitted to the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) isolation ward in Kampungu had already reduced to a trickle over several weeks and none came in since October 4. From that day onward, it looked like the outbreak had been contained. MSF counted the days without new Ebola patients, as did the population, knowing that the incubation period for the disease can be up to 21 days. Since the Ebola outbreak was officially declared on September 10, the MSF team has been working around the clock to isolate and treat those infected and try to halt a further spread of the deadly disease. A major operation was launched, in the field in Mweka health zone, in Kinshasa for the logistical preparation of the activities, and in Brussels for the technical support and recruitment of new team members. Speed was of the essence, as the disease seemed to be spreading rapidly. The challenges were obvious from the beginning. The airstrip of Luebo, a town located 15 km from Kampungu, had to be repaired. Many complex tasks had to be performed simultaneously, such as; strengthening and organising the work in the isolation unit; training medical staff of the Ministry of Health in safety rules and the correct diagnosis of patients; training the staff recruited locally for safe disinfection of the materials coming out of the high risk zone of the isolation wards; and supplying hundreds of litres of chlorinated water daily for disinfection activities. A medical team searched for people suspected of being infected with Ebola. They have tried, in most cases successfully, to trace people who had been in contact with suspected or confirmed patients, and verified each bit of information and every rumour of Ebola that reached them through community workers. They also distributed drugs to 15 health centres. In order to reach all villages in the affected area, the MSF team had to travel tracks that were in a very poor state. In the far northeast of the area, the track was impossible to travel by car. The team decided to repair the road, making it possible for the cars to pass and, if needed, to bring sick people from this isolated area to the Ebola ward. Over four days, up to 80 people from the area cut trees and bamboo and built three bridges, coordinated by the MSF logistician. They turned the 22km track into a passable path and enabled the MSF team to finish their search for other people potentially infected with Ebola. The team member in charge of distributing information about the disease to the population was also able to go to the remote locations and give all necessary details on the outbreak and the precautions people should be taking. Since the opening of the isolation unit, 42 patients were hospitalised. Some of them could not be tested for Ebola because at, first, no laboratory was available. In total, over 80% of the people confirmed infected have died. At 65%, the mortality rate inside the isolation unit was lower, suggesting that the care offered by the medical team aided in their survival, even though there is no specific treatment for Ebola. Ebola was just one of the diseases that were raging in Kasai Occidental at the time, a region which, like many parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is particularly prone to epidemics. This outbreak has left families mourning their loved ones who were Ebola victims and villages emptied because people died or fled.