Ebola Outbreak 2018

UNICEF Mobilizes to Fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

On May 8 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.

Mbandaka’s location near the well-trafficked Congo River has also raised the spectre of international contagion. "This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus."

UNICEF and partners responded immediately, dispatching community health workers and shipping supplies, installing handwashing stations at schools and among other measures to improve water quality, sanitation and hygiene, all critical for Ebola prevention.

What is Ebola?

According to 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.

Is Ebola bacteria or a virus?

While bacteria can be combated with antibiotics, the same is not true of viruses. Ebola is a ribonucleic acid (RNA) virus and multiplies particularly rapidly in its host, creating a high pathogen dose.

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 of Ebola and complications are treated as they appear. Treatment approaches include 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?

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 does Ebola reproduce in the body?

Because viruses are too small to reproduce on their own, they must invade a host cell in order to multiply and produce more copies of themselves that can then go on to infect other organisms and continue the infection cycle.

How UNICEF Is Helping

UNICEF played a major role in responding to previous outbreaks, including the most recent epidemic in West Africa in 2014–2016. 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. 

UNICEF is now leveraging that experience to help contain the spread of the disease. Working with the DRC Government and partners, UNICEF is sending out hundreds of community workers throughout the Bikoro and Mbandaka health zones to educate children and families about how to protect themselves and where to go to get vaccinated.

In addition to supporting the public information campaign, UNICEF has deployed 4,585 kg of supplies, including soap, tarpaulins, buckets and chlorine to support water, sanitation and hygiene activities. Some 80 metric tons of aid, including health and water, sanitation and hygiene supplies are being shipped from Sierra Leone to the DRC to support the response.

UNICEF water purification tablets are being delivered to Ebola Treatment Centers and communities in Bikoro and Mbandaka, and disinfection points are being installed in four further health facilities. Handwashing points have also been set up in 50 targeted schools in affected areas in Mbandaka. An additional 72 schools in Bikoro will soon receive hand-washing equipment. Schools are being equipped with thermometers to monitor the health status of children.

Learn more about UNICEF's work to protect children and their families in the DRC from Ebola. 


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