UNICEF Mobilizes to Fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

In May 2018, the Government of the Democratic Republic of 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. By the end of May 2019, 1,945 probable Ebola cases had been reported — of whom 572 were children under age 18 — with 1,208 deaths among confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. 

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

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?

Children are at a higher risk of dying from the disease than adults. One in ten Ebola cases is under the age of 5. 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 is working with the government and partners to deliver safe water, sanitation and hygiene to prevent further spread of the disease, provide counseling support to assist families, including those affected by Ebola, and inform and work with schools and communities on prevention measures to create a protective environment.

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. 

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


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