UNICEF Mobilizes to Fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

After Ebola resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Equateur Province on June 1, 2020, UNICEF quickly deployed water, hygiene and sanitation supplies, and stepped up work alongside local government and civil society partners to share critical information on Ebola symptoms, prevention and treatement, and to address myths and misinformation. UNICEF is also providing psychosocial support to Ebola patients — including children — and their families.

Just weeks earlier, the World Health Organization declared that the world's second largest Ebola outbreak, in eastern DRC, was officially over on June 25, 2020. That outbreak, which lasted almost two years, infected 3,470 people, killing 2,287. An unprecedented number of the Ebola cases — 28 percent — were children. Those under age 5 were especially hard hit.

When the outbreak began in northeast DRC in August 2018, UNICEF and partners responded immediately, dispatching community health workers, leading public information campaigns, shipping supplies and installing handwashing stations at schools along with other measures to improve water quality, sanitation and hygiene, all critical for Ebola prevention. Neighboring countries (Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan) also stepped up preparedness to protect children and communities. 

In July 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the eastern DRC outbreak a "public emergency of international concern," a designation reserved for extraordinary emergencies that "constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease" and "potentially require a coordinated international response." 

What is Ebola?

According to the WHO, the Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare but severe and 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. 

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Ebola symptoms include fever, severe headache, redness around the eyes, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle pain, unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising) weakness and fatigue. Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after contact with the virus, typically within 8 to 10 days. 

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?

There is currently no licensed vaccine to protect people from the Ebola virus, according to the WHO. An experimental Ebola vaccine is is being used on a "compassionate basis," to protect persons at highest risk of the Ebola outbreak, including frontline health workers, using a "ring vaccination" strategy. 

What is ring vaccination?

A ring vaccination identifies individuals at raised risk of infection due to their connection to a patient confirmed to have the virus. The ring includes neighbors, family, extended family and anyone who, in the last 21 days:

  • lived in the same household as the patient
  • visited or were visited by the patient after they developed symptoms
  • were in close physical contact with the patient's body, bodily fluids, bed sheets or clothing 

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 is UNICEF helping to prevent further spread of Ebola?

As part of the overall response with national governments, WHO and other partners, UNICEF leads on communication and community engagement to inform and protect local populations; on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) activities to help prevent further spread of the disease; and on psychosocial support to assist children and families affected by Ebola.

In addition, UNICEF works in schools to ensure a protective environment for children, provides nutritional support for children affected by the disease and, to limit the spread of Ebola, deploys health staff at border crossings to help detect those who may have been infected.  

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 Democratic Republic of Congo from Ebola. 


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