Ebola Returns to Central Africa With A Vengeance

Central Africa is currently experiencing the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola in the past five years. Primarily impacting the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the epidemic is localized in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the northeastern portion of the nation, along the borders of South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda; it is the first time the virus has spread in an active conflict zone.

Beginning in August 2018, local health officials in the DRC have worked with the International Red Cross (IRC), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Health Organization (WHO) to contain the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD). According to the WHO, there are 1,739 confirmed cases of Ebola and 1,147 deaths as of May 14.

The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976; its name stems from the Ebola River located on the northern border of the country formerly known as Zaire. The symptoms of the virus include severe headaches, muscle pain, and abdominal pain. It’s common to experience fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting blood, and dehydration. The Western African Ebola virus epidemic — Ebola’s deadliest outbreak, which took place between 2013 and 2016 — wreaked havoc in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, and peaked in 2014. There were more than 28,500 confirmed cases of Ebola with over 11,300 fatalities, or roughly a 40 percent death rate. A massive infusion of resources by international health organizations stemmed the tide of the epidemic.

Officials are trying to stem the detrimental effects of another outbreak like the Western African Ebola virus epidemic. The current Ebola outbreak has the potential to spread regionally, and a rapid increase of confirmed cases — the DRC now cites 160 cases — in the past 10 days is alarming considering the virus has killed 66 percent of those infected. Fueled by misinformation and the false belief that international aid workers and medical staff are responsible for the spread of the virus, armed militias have attacked clinics and personnel. Burial parties have been attacked and, in other instances, gunfights have erupted between militias and security forces. In April, Cameroonian doctor Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung was killed while working with other medical staff at Butembo University Hospital.

The joint coalition of aid organizations must prevent armed militias from attacking health clinics and providers. The attacks hamper the ability of organizations to effectively combat the epidemic and distribute immunity-boosting medicine, and US officials are moving aggressively to address the situation. USAID met with Ebola experts in the field, and while the CDC pulled personnel from Kivu last year after an attack by militias, it is currently redoubling their efforts and plans to send 40 people to aid in the Congo. Much of the increased presence will depend on the type of security approved by the State Department, according to the CDC.

Given the multitude of medical and security issues — including a faster-than-ever spread and ongoing violence — curtailing the Ebola outbreak continues to be an uphill battle.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. He is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.