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Africa defeated Ebola

It was a pleasing development last year – and yet it received little media attention in this country: in June 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the end of the largest Ebola epidemic to date in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The disease has raged in the mountain forests and villages of eastern Congo since 2018, claiming 2,287 confirmed deaths. In mid-November last year, the WHO Regional Office for Africa also declared the second, smaller Ebola outbreak of 2020 on the swampy underpass of the Congo River to be over. In total, there have been 11 outbreaks in Congo since the virus was discovered in 1976.

A terrible disease

Ebola is a serious viral disease. The virus can be transmitted from bats and monkeys to humans, either indirectly by animal-infected fruits or directly by touching animals or their feces. The virus also transmits directly through contact with body excretions of infected people. Symptoms begin with high fever, throat, muscle, abdominal and headache, accompanied by diarrhea and poor general condition. This is followed by internal bleeding, vital organs failing. Depending on the type of virus, between 25 and 90 percent of cases have been fatal so far.

Ebola under control?

But the past year gives cause for hope that the disease will lose some of its horror. African doctors are now pretty sure they have Ebola under control. As early as 2019, the science editor of Zeit spoke of a “historic turnaround” in the fight against the epidemic. New drugs play a major role in this, saving the lives of almost all those infected. “Suddenly Ebola seems to be becoming a treatable disease from one of the deadliest of all epidemics.” The aforementioned outbreak in Congo in 2018 tested drugs to slow down the course of the disease after infection. In addition, more than 100,000 people received what appeared to be a highly effective vaccine.

State-of-the-art medical

State-of-the-art medical technology was used. The vaccines had to be brought to partly impassable areas at temperatures of up to minus 80 degrees Celsius. The technology “used to keep the Ebola vaccine in super-cold temperatures will be helpful when a Covid-19 vaccine is brought to Africa,” says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa Director.

Hard-to-reach areas

The victory over Ebola is also remarkable because the last outbreak in Congo took place in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic – and only in regions that are among the poorest in the world. Among other things, the organization Doctors Without Borders was in use. The challenges were enormous: “In order to be able to respond to emergency medical interventions, our team has a warehouse with vehicles, motorcycles and outboard engines that can be installed on boats or canoes,” explains Mathias Dembo, Logistics Coordinator at Doctors Without Borders. Some villages can only be reached by the river by canoe. “In order to reach Bolomba, for example, our entire team, including equipment, had to go up the Likelemba river in canoes,” says Mathias Dembo. Other areas require hours of difficult transport on dirt roads through the jungle.

Experience from previous epidemics

Whether the great experience of many in Africa in dealing with dangerous diseases will also be useful in the fight against Covid-19 remains to be seen. At present, the pandemic is on the rise again in Africa. By October 2020, however, the Corona case numbers were declining. In an SRF interview, WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said that the experience from previous epidemics was of great benefit: “We already had temperature screening and staff ingestion at airports due to the simultaneous Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Numerous innovations

Last October, the WHO also praised Africa’s ingenuity in the fight against Corona. With more than 120 “life-saving” innovations, especially in the IT sector, the continent exceeded expectations in view of the comparatively low development. Among the inventions, according to the UN agency, are a self-diagnosis program from Angola, a contact tracking app from Ghana and a Corona chatbot for WhatsApp from South Africa. “Solar-powered hand-washing devices and mobile apps built on Africa’s rapidly growing connectivity – these home-grown innovations are uniquely adapted to the African context,” said Matshidiso Moeti.

Experience from previous epidemics

Whether the great experience of many in Africa in dealing with dangerous diseases will also be useful in the fight against Covid-19 remains to be seen. At present, the pandemic is on the rise again in Africa. By October 2020, however, the Corona case numbers were declining. In an SRF interview, WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said that the experience from previous epidemics was of great benefit: “We already had temperature screening and staff ingestion at airports due to the simultaneous Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”