The world’s second largest Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) may continue killing for another six months. The forecast was made by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, Dr. Peter Salama, during a recent interview with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) late last week. Dr. Salama cited the “complicated setting” of the DRC as one of the main reasons the outbreak has been worsening.
“This is the most complicated setting we’ve ever experienced in order to stop an Ebola outbreak,” Salama said while speaking to CIDRAP. “At a minimum, it will take six further months to stop.”
Although the initial epicenter of the outbreak—the city of Beni in North Kivu province—hasn’t seen a new Ebola case in about two weeks, the virus is still dangerously active in other areas of the country. Salama says current WHO operations are focused on Butembo and Katwa, as well as Komanda and Oicha. According to the WHO, as of January 16, 2019, there have been 668 cases of the hemorrhagic virus and 410 deaths.
“I feel we will be able to get on top of those with access, which will leave Butembo and Katwa as the main priority,” said Dr. Salama.
The current political situation in the DRC continues to be one of the most significant challenges groups like the WHO face when trying to control the spread of the virus. The Congolese supreme court recently ruled that Felix Tshisekedi was the legitimate winner of the presidential election, but according to one report from The Guardian, the runner-up in the election, Martin Fayulu, is still rejecting the results.
“The constitutional court has just confirmed that it serves a dictatorial regime by validating false results, [and enabling] a constitutional coup d’etat,” said Fayulu in a statement, according to the Guardian.
The WHO has faced several challenges in the DRC, including a population unfamiliar with Ebola as well as attacks by terrorists groups such as the Ugandan-based Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Making the situation even more difficult, the WHO is also facing allegations of corruption within its organization. According to a report from the Associated Press (AP), whistle-blowers within the organization emailed top WHO officials last year with complaints of “racism, sexism, and corruption.”
“The allegations are being investigated according to WHO’s established procedures, having been referred to WHO’s Office of Internal Oversight Services by Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,” the WHO wrote in a statement. “The anonymous allegations, which had been circulating internally, were also addressed openly by Dr. Tedros in global meetings with staff in which he stressed that WHO has zero tolerance for misconduct or discrimination of any kind.”