A worker from the Ministry of Health prepares to screen travellers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a preventive measure against Ebola as they arrive at the port Soua, crossing the river Oubangui that connects DRC to Bangui, Central African Republic, on June 14. Photo by: REUTERS / Paul Lorgerie

WASHINGTON — The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues more than one month after being confirmed by the World Health Organization. And while health workers and international aid organizations fight to contain the virus, WHO has focused its most recent efforts on Ebola preparedness training in neighboring countries.

In Republic of Congo, more than 50 government officials, NGOs, and international aid organizations participated in a five-day training program last week to prepare ministries in the event of a cross-border Ebola outbreak.

“Based on the information we have received [from] a rapid risk assessment tool that allows us to further understand the transmission of the outbreak, we have realized that the Republic of Congo is at risk of Ebola due to the proximity of the current event and [that] is a country that shares a border with the epicenter of the Equatorial region,” WHO Ebola Preparedness Training Coordinator Ali Yahaya told Devex.

Attending ministers and representatives from the health, defense, internal affairs, agriculture,  and environment ministries are now able to implement a harmonized intervention to support any potential outbreak without duplicating efforts, Yahaya explained.

“An emergency committee should be operational and in the process of further enhancing their surveillance systems to detect any case of EVD outbreak.”

Theoretical and practical training sessions presented attendees with real-life scenarios such as how a rapid response team should operate, contact tracing, data management and reporting, and social mobilization methods. Most information shared focused on border district issues to help countries become immediately operational if a case arrives at a point of entry.

Packing for Ebola: UK Rapid Support Team leaves for DRC
As she prepares her deployment to support the Ebola outbreak in DRC, Hilary Bower, an epidemiologist with the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, discusses the challenges of the outbreak and why her team is focused on supporting local and regional health workers.

“We recognize the emergency [response] committee must be a multidisciplinary team so we also give them an overview on how the lab should play a critical role when testing possible Ebola cases and how to establish an Ebola treatment center with respect for infection control and prevention,” Yahaya said.

After training, Yahaya said teams further understand the role of a national and subnational emergency committee and can now conduct local trainings and serve on the frontlines if there are any cases.

WHO will conduct similar Ebola preparedness trainings in neighboring Central African Republic from June 18-20, and in Burundi from June 25-29, to improve country’s preparedness in coordination, rapid response team establishment, risk management, point of entry, infection prevention control, and contact tracing.

As of June 12, the DRC Ebola outbreak has seen 66 total cases, including 38 confirmed cases and 28 deaths. While more than two dozen countries have implemented entry screening for international travelers coming from DRC, there are currently no international travel restrictions in place. However, bordering Angola has closed a section of its borders with DRC.

“Compared to one month ago we are in a significantly better position,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Devex during the Devex World conference earlier this week.

“The outbreak is still not under control. The war is not over until all cases are gone so we have to strengthen our surveillance and be as vigilant as possible,” he said.

The WHO Regional Strategic EVD Readiness Preparedness Plan estimates a budget of $15.5 million to implement their six-month plan for the nine border countries. However, Yahaya told Devex that more important than funding for the plan is building local capacities.

“While we continue to mobilize resources, what is most crucial is that through the technical support of WHO we can find tangible and significant progress in preparation which is in line with international standards to strengthen local capacities to be able to prevent, detect, and respond to any public health event,” Yahaya said.

Update, June 15: This story was amended to clarify Yahaya’s job title as WHO’s Ebola preparedness training coordinator.

About the author

  • Christin Roby

    Christin Roby worked as the West Africa Correspondent for Devex, covering global development trends, health, technology, and policy. Before relocating to West Africa, Christin spent several years working in local newsrooms and earned her master of science in videography and global affairs reporting from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her informed insight into the region stems from her diverse coverage of more than a dozen African nations.