Congo faces second Ebola outbreak in northern province

DAKAR, SENEGAL (AP) — Health officials confirmed a second Ebola outbreak in Congo, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, adding yet another health crisis for a country already battling COVID-19 and the world’s largest measles outbreak.

Congo has yet to declare an official end to Ebola in its troubled east, where at least 2,243 people have died since an epidemic began there in August 2018.

Now Congolese health authorities identified six cases including four fatalities in the north near Mbandaka, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” he said in a statement.

Four other people were being held in isolation at a hospital in Mbandaka, UNICEF said.

The victims died on May 18 but test results confirming Ebola only came back over the weekend, according to Congolese Health Minister Dr Eteni Longondo. WHO said it already had teams on the ground.

This announcement marks the 11th time that Ebola hit the province since the virus was first discovered in Congo in 1976. Just two years ago an outbreak killed 33 people before the disease was brought under control in a matter of months.

The latest cases turned up in Wangata health zone near the port city of Mbandaka.

In the east, health officials are still waiting to declare an official end to the epidemic after nearly two years. The last known patient there was released in mid-May but the country now must go about another month without any new cases before a declaration can be made.

COVID-19 already touched seven of Congo’s 25 provinces, with more than 3,000 confirmed cases and 72 deaths. Like many African countries Congo conducted extremely limited testing, and observers fear the true toll may be far higher.

While Ebola and COVID-19 drew far more international attention, measles killed more Congolese than those diseases combined. WHO said there have been 369,520 measles cases and 6,779 deaths since 2019. “This quadruple threat could prove lethal for millions of children and their families,” said National Director in Congo for the aid organisation World Vision Anne-Marie Connor.