ABIDJAN — Following a two-month emergency intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Médecins Sans Frontières finished handing over its Ebola response and monitoring activities to the Congolese Ministry of Public Health last week.
The last confirmed case in the northwestern DRC outbreak — which claimed 33 lives — was registered on June 6. It has now surpassed the 42-day window that marks the end of an Ebola outbreak, and enters into a 90-day period of “heightened surveillance,” as outlined in the World Health Organization’s guidance.
On Tuesday, DRC health officials made an official declaration to the end of the Ebola outbreak. However, with suspected cases still being closely followed, the handover strategy and exit plan guided by WHO and the Ministry of Health was “easier and smoother” than during past outbreaks, Christelle Scarparone, MSF’s emergency coordinator, told Devex.
The DRC Ebola response as it unfolded:
“Since the beginning out the outbreak, DRC Ministry of Health were integrated into our response team, so continuous training was taking place,” she said. “MO[P]H tried very hard to strengthen their capabilities to become independently able to manage their activities for now and for the future.”
Blended response teams supported all activities, from vaccinations to medical treatment, and outreach campaigns allowed local health authorities to benefit from the multipronged response. A new Ebola vaccine was an additional support to containment.
“All training was done as a continuous training where we blended MSF teams with Ministry of Health together in all activities, including vaccination, so this was also to help them benefit and learn from the response,” Scarparone explained.
MOPH led response coordination at each level, bringing partners together and delegating vaccination, outreach, and security strategies, she said. They also guided daily coordination meetings where aid workers discussed challenges and operational objectives.
“What we learned from 2014 [is] that if we can be very fast, we can treat many patients in a short time period,” Scarparone said.
“We were very prepared and materials were available quite fast in Mbandaka and also the new tool, the vaccination, was used just a few weeks after the beginning of the outbreak declaration … [which added to] the treatment, outreach activity, and sensitization efforts,” she said.
With international NGOs and donor teams taking extensive precautions to prevent the spread of the disease along the Congo River or into neighboring countries, humanitarians quickly accumulated large quantities of supplies which were later distributed to local health facilities, including protective, medical, logistical, and cleaning materials.
MSF was one of the first humanitarian responders to descend on Mbandaka in early May, when alerts of a possible Ebola outbreak in the northwest reached the nation’s capital, Kinshasa. And while the international medical aid organization has removed all physical presence in Equateur province, the epicenter of the outbreak, an emergency team remains in Kinshasa and continues to follow epidemiological alerts, Scarparone noted.