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Claire Garmirian 203.209.8545 (M)
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 17, 2019)—Save the Children welcomes the decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a public health emergency of international concern. The outbreak has been raging in the country for nearly a year. It is time to prevent the virus from spreading any further and to do that, the international community must urgently scale up its response and support to the affected countries, Save the Children warns.
“In the last few days, this already devastating epidemic has gotten dangerously close to spreading out of control,” said Ian Vale, Save the Children’s regional director for East and Southern Africa. “A woman showing Ebola symptoms in Uganda died after returning to DRC. And there was a case in Goma, a bustling transport hub of one million people on the Rwandan border.
“In both cases the authorities had prepared well and acted quickly. But even if these cases do not immediately lead to more, they show that so long as Ebola remains unchecked at the outbreak’s epicenter in war-torn eastern DRC, it will pose a deadly threat to the country and its neighbors.
“Hundreds of children have already been killed and thousands of lives have been destroyed. And it’s the youngest that are hardest hit. Forty percent of children who have contracted the disease are under the age of five.
“Today’s declaration is the strongest possible call to action. It is recognition that only an immediate and urgent scaling up of the response will ensure many lives are saved.”
More than 700 children have now contracted the disease in DRC. The fatality rate is around 67 percent—far higher than the 2014-2015 outbreak in West Africa.
There are more than 100 armed groups operating in eastern DRC, where constant conflict and insecurity have hampered the response. There have been almost 200 attacks on health workers.
Health workers have also had to overcome fear and misunderstanding of the disease. Children in DRC and Uganda have told Save the Children teams that they thought the disease was spread by health workers carrying out vaccinations, or caused by witchcraft.
Hundreds of government and humanitarian health workers are already working around the clock to stem the outbreak in incredibly difficult circumstances. Save the Children is calling for more investment in local community outreach and information campaigns to make sure children and adults have accurate information about how to prevent the spread of the disease. International donors need to back national government responses in the affected countries.
This Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC, was declared on August 1, 2018. Since then, Save the Children has reached around 1 million people in the country with information on how to recognize symptoms and keep the disease from spreading. The aid agency provides infection prevention control equipment to health workers and trains them to use it; it builds triages at the entrances of hospitals and health centers to ensure any patients presenting with Ebola symptoms are isolated; it works with community leaders and health workers to do surveillance and contact tracing; and it engages in dialogue with the communities that it works with to get their views on how best to end this deadly outbreak.
In Uganda, Save the Children has been working with local communities and district authorities to help mitigate the spread of the outbreak. More than 1,000 Ugandan health workers, volunteers, teachers, village health teams, and laboratory staff have been trained to prevent and respond to cases so far. Save the Children has also distributed prevention materials in health facilities and border crossings and installed handwashing facilities to reduce the risk of contamination. The aid agency is also carrying out community dialogues and radio campaigns to spread information.
Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding 100 years ago, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.