DG statement at ceremony marking end of 9th Ebola outbreak in DRC
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization
This is a happy occasion. I am so pleased to be here with you, for a third time in three months, to personally convey my congratulations on defeating another outbreak of Ebola.
I remember when I first visited in May, we were very concerned. This outbreak had begun in isolated rural areas, but it quickly affected Mbandaka, an urban centre with riverine connections to Kinshasa, as well as to the neighbouring countries. The risks were high.
But you have shown a model to the world of how this terrible disease can be defeated.
How did you do it?
The government showed very strong leadership and the Ministry of Health was quick to respond, quick to invite support where needed, and quick to inform the public about the risks of the disease. This kind of leadership saves lives. In particular, I congratulate my colleague Oly Ilunga for his leadership.
You engaged early with WHO and welcomed our support, allowing WHO and its partners to move quickly and efficiently. I am proud of the hundreds of WHO staff—mostly from this region, from the African region—who worked closely with you and our partners to deliver a very targeted public health response supported by a strong logistics and operational platform.
In particular I would like to recognise the contribution of our donors, UN agencies and NGO partners in country. The capacities of the UN system were deployed in highly coordinated and effective manner. I would personally like to recognise the role of the SRSG and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator who worked closely with the Government and WHO to ensure that the capabilities of MONUSCO, OCHA, WFP Africa CDC and UNICEF were deployed to great effect right into the deep field.
In addition, other international partners like MSF, IFRC and GOARN were vital in providing essential services that helped end this epidemic.
But more importantly, this response was led and driven by the Congolese supported by the international community.
You used all tools at hand, both traditional methods such as case investigation, contact tracing, community engagement, and providing care to the sick, but also new tools such as vaccinating the people who were at risk of being infected by the virus. This shows vision and a determination to deploy all possible measures to break transmission chains and bring the outbreak to an end.
Although the vaccine is not yet licensed, following a successful trial in Guinea, Merck the manufacturer of the vaccine, donated significant quantities to WHO for use immediately under an investigational protocol. This outbreak in the DRC, represents the first time that we have used the vaccine as a major pillar in our Ebola response. The logistics of the ‘ultra’ cold chain had to be managed carefully as the vaccine has to be kept at between -60 and -80 C until close to the time of its administration—this was a big challenge in an area of remote rainforest lacking paved roads and power.
Nonetheless within 2 weeks of the outbreak being declared, with our partners and your ministry, we began to vaccinate. In a remarkable show of regional and international solidarity, the government of Guinea sent more than 30 vaccinators who had been involved in the ring vaccination trial in that country and had rare first-hand experience to assist. More than 3300 contacts with around 98% acceptance rate, indicating a strong understanding and acceptance of the vaccine.
Crucially, you are already preparing for this next outbreak. As the Minister said in our briefings you have to be ready. I know you are strengthening the surveillance system to detect signals of disease early, you are training health centre staff on infection prevention and control so they can be protected while they treat their patients, you are working with communities at risk so they recognise this disease when it enters their midst. Continuing to strengthen the surveillance system is important, I commend you for continuing to be really vigilant.
In fact, even the survivors of this outbreak have joined forces to protect others. I was really touched when I visited Itipo in June, to meet the survivors’ group, led by father Ambunga, , a survivor himself, Even though they had nearly lost everything – including the most precious thing of all which is their lives – they were ready to give back to their community. They were taking time to explain the dangers of the disease to their community so that others would be protected.
All of this work, all of these preparation will serve you well for the next Ebola outbreak, which Minister Ilunga has widely acknowledged is a possibility. But these preparations will also serve you well to respond to ANY outbreak. Creating a stronger health system has many benefits.
Now, let’s look ahead together.
This response showed how effective DRC can be in tackling a major outbreak. Let’s take the momentum of this outbreak to defeat other outbreaks the country is facing, such as cholera and polio.
Together, we must improve health services for ALL Congolese.
Prevention happens when you have a strong health system, able to vaccinate children against deadly diseases, detect diseases at the earliest moment before they affect communities, protect health workers from those diseases, and have adequate, trained staff who can manage a range of diseases.
There is no magic way to achieve this, just commitment, hard work, accountability and a fierce determination to serve the most vulnerable is the magic. And you have shown that on Ebola.
Together we have to strengthen systems and strategic solutions by building primary health care.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has shown what is possible if we are determined and united in that cause in the face of potentially devastating epidemics.
Brothers and sisters, once again, I congratulate you on this accomplishment, and reaffirm WHO’s commitment to accompanying you every step of the way as you seek to improve health for all.