UNICEF Mobilizes to Fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In May 2018, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced an outbreak of Ebola in the Northwestern Equateur Province. At first, the outbreak appeared to be confined to remote areas, but soon cases were confirmed in Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people, heightening the risks of a more rapid spread of this highly contagious disease.
UNICEF and partners responded immediately, dispatching community health workers and shipping supplies, and installing handwashing stations at schools among other measures to improve water quality, sanitation and hygiene, all critical for Ebola prevention.
Early response was initially successful, quelling the outbreak in 11 weeks, but Ebola was reported in eastern DRC in August. By early January 2019, the country's conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces has become the epicenter of the second deadliest and second largest Ebola epidemic in history. More than 600 probable Ebola cases have been reported, one-third of them children, with 368 deaths and 207 recoveries. Children are at a higher risk of dying from the disease than adults. One in ten Ebola cases is under the age of 5.
What is Ebola?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
How does Ebola spread?
Human-to-human transmission of EVD comes from direct contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of those infected. The virus is relatively robust and can survive until transmission on materials contaminated with those fluids, such as bedding and clothing.
Can Ebola be cured or treated?
The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks. Symptoms include fever, severe headache and in some cases, hemorrhaging. Treatment includes giving intravenous fluids (IV), balancing electrolytes (body salts) and maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure. Early intervention can significantly improve the chances of a patient's survival.
Is there an Ebola vaccine?
Yes. WHO is coordinating with the DRC Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), UNICEF and other partners to vaccinate those who are at high risk of infection in the affected health zones. UNICEF will play a leading role in providing information to the communities affected by the outbreak.
How was Ebola discovered?
Ebola was first discovered in 1976 in former Zaire, or what is now the DRC, near the Ebola River. Dr. Peter Piot of Belgium and his colleagues were the first to identify Ebola.
Who is most at risk for getting Ebola?
For most people, the risk of getting Ebola is low. The risk increases if you travel to Africa or visit or work in areas where Ebola virus outbreaks have occurred.
How UNICEF Is Helping
UNICEF played a major role in responding to previous outbreaks, including the epidemic in West Africa in 2014–2016, the deadliest outbreak ever, which killed more than 11,000 people. As part of its emergency response, UNICEF delivered more than 8,000 metric tons of critical medical supplies and worked with local communities, religious leaders and traditional healers to raise awareness of safe health practices. The West African outbreak, which spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone and Liberia, was a complicated, harrowing emergency that resulted in more cases and more deaths than all previous outbreaks combined. As the crisis abated, UNICEF helped the survivors heal, especially the children who were directly affected.
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