Statement on the Declaration of the End of the Ebola Epidemic in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, Democratic Republic of the Congo by Professor Peter Piot
25 June 2020London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine https://lshtm.ac.uk/themes/custom/lshtm/images/lshtm-logo-black.png
In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is a ray of sunshine to report. It is with great joy and relief that we join the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in celebrating the official end of the country’s tenth Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. We must congratulate all of the people who worked tirelessly with communities for much of the last two years to save lives and help control this devastating epidemic, often at enormous sacrifice in a context of insecurity and violence.
The outbreak, the world’s second largest in history, tragically claimed more than 2,200 lives with the number of cases surpassing 3,400. The outbreak exposed some of the global community’s major fault lines in epidemic preparedness and response, but also marked impressive scientific achievements in the prevention and treatment of Ebola, and in new ways of working with and engaging communities.
The DRC has long been at the forefront of science and innovation during Ebola outbreaks. With the DRC’s leadership and support from international collaboration, research conducted during the country’s tenth epidemic has helped change the course of this deadly disease. We now have a licensed Ebola vaccine, with another hopefully soon to achieve that status, and effective treatments thanks to impressive clinical trials conducted under very challenging conditions. With these tools, it is time to move from a reactive containment only strategy to primary prevention and protection of frontline workers and vulnerable populations.
This science had the dual benefit of helping to halt the outbreak in eastern DRC, as well as strengthening preparedness for future outbreaks in the country and around the globe. We are now in the strongest position ever to stop emerging Ebola infections in people before they become large epidemics, as we are seeing with the swift and rigorous response DRC has mounted to a new Ebola outbreak, the country’s eleventh, in the north-western Équateur Province.
Progress of this scale was unimaginable even five years ago, and I am very proud of the role our School has played in helping achieve this – from conducting rapid real-time research to deploying experts to support the local response through the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team. The major collaborations to develop vaccines against Ebola in particular show what can be done, and give real hope for a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19.
But there can be no complacency. Even as this Ebola outbreak comes to an end in eastern DRC, we must maintain robust surveillance and ensure we are ready to respond to potential flare-ups, always keeping the needs of survivors at the heart of our efforts. This is especially critical while there is an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the north-western part of the country. I hope that the response and research capacities strengthened during this outbreak can help build a stronger and better resourced health and development system in the long-term both in DRC and globally.
Such systems are more critical than ever as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, where vulnerable communities and fragile health systems risk being the hardest hit. Faced with an unprecedented crisis, we have seen many governments across Africa mount early and aggressive responses, leveraging their experience and lessons learned fighting other epidemics such as Ebola. We have a lot of work to do to make the world a safer place from the threat of disease but today, even if just for a moment, we must join with the DRC to celebrate this milestone in the fight against Ebola.
There cannot be any complacency as to the need for global action.
With your help, we can plug critical gaps in the understanding of COVID-19. This will support global response efforts and help to save lives around the world.