It has been five years since the West Africa Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone resulted in more than 28,000 cases and 11,300 deaths. Now, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is experiencing the world's second-largest Ebola epidemic in history with nearly 2,200 lives lost since the outbreak was declared in August 2018. The risk of spread to neighboring countries remains high.
While progress has been made, this outbreak will continue to burn and pose health, security and economic risks to the world. Now is the time to tip the scales of the outbreak and wipe out the last cases as well as strengthen public health systems for the future. To do so, it is critical that all sectors―the public, philanthropic and private―mobilize together to beat this crisis.
DRC needs urgent support to beat back Ebola
Since Ebola was discovered in 1976, there have been 28 outbreaks worldwide and 10 in DRC alone—more than any other country. In addition to the current outbreak continuing to play out, there will be lasting consequences to this epidemic once it ends.
To aid the DRC response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has requested the CDC Foundation mobilize $15–$20 million to extend the agency's response working with officials from DRC and other partners.
"The Ebola outbreak in DRC is dynamic, and we cannot afford to let our guard down despite the reported decline in cases," said Henry Walke, MD, MPH, CDC's Ebola Response incident manager. "We are closely monitoring the situation and using all available resources―including support from the CDC Foundation and its partners―in the most efficient and effective way possible, to stop the outbreak and strengthen health systems in DRC."
Governments have unique capacities and limitations, and therefore are not able to address all the challenges and needs in tackling outbreaks. This is where the flexibility and speed of the philanthropic and private sectors can have greater impact.
"I have worked in government, including at CDC, and I know that governments are essential in tackling a health threat like Ebola," said Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. "But I also know that governments have challenges with how fast funding is available, whether enough funding will be available in the time frame needed to meet emerging and urgent needs, and how that funding can be spent. That's why flexible philanthropic and private sector support is imperative."
Today, there are many urgent needs that must be met to stem the crisis, such as hiring contractors and field staff to conduct critical interventions like contact tracing, Ebola vaccination and surveillance. Additional support is needed to conduct urgent operations research to inform current medical care and public health efforts for Ebola survivors. In addition, essential response items and services are needed, including communications technology, lab equipment and supplies, generators, motorcycles and travel support.
Building on lessons from the West Africa Ebola response
The CDC Foundation learned valuable lessons during the 2014–2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, including the need for resource mobilization and the importance of collaboration among all sectors to stop an outbreak. The Foundation also learned how fragile gains will be if the systems in place aren't sustained or improved. It is crucial to apply these lessons to contain the Ebola epidemic in DRC as well as turn back future outbreaks, so that the progress made isn't in vain.
During the 2014–2016 outbreak, the CDC Foundation—through financial support from philanthropic, private sector and individual partners—provided vital resources ranging from personal protective equipment to thermal scanning thermometers to health worker training to vehicles to emergency operations centers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to support CDC's prevention, detection and containment efforts. Recovery efforts remain strong five years later, and these countries are now better prepared to fight future outbreaks.
CDC and the CDC Foundation are looking for similar success in DRC to what was accomplished with partners on the ground in West Africa.
"CDC has called on the CDC Foundation again to help mobilize support to tackle this outbreak and prepare DRC and surrounding countries for future outbreaks, which we know will occur if we don't act now," said Monroe.