You’ve recently visited Équateur province, the heart of the 11th outbreak—what can you tell us about this epidemic?
The eleventh Ebola outbreak in DRC was declared on 1 June 2020. Since then, 130 people have fallen ill and 55 have died from the disease. The first cases were reported in the town of Mbandaka, Équateur’s administrative centre, before small clusters began to appear in the more peripheral districts. Since then, the outbreak has been advancing at a slow pace. Although the situation appears to be under control, experience shows that new clusters can still occur.
At the same time, we are observing significantly lower levels of viral loads and mortality compared to the tenth Ebola outbreak, which struck the east of the country between 2018 and 2020. Mortality is still high at 43 per cent today, but it’s down from the 67 per cent we saw during the tenth outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
A possible explanation is that some sort of natural immunity exists among people in Équateur province, as this region has experienced Ebola outbreaks before, most recently in 2018. Reservoirs of the virus are traditionally present there. It is possible then that some people may have experienced low-level exposure to the virus before and may be immune in some way. This is just a hypothesis based on observations; further analysis is needed. We are also benefitting from the scientific progress made in recent years, including our ability to use a vaccine, and curative treatments that have proven to be effective in clinical trials conducted during the previous outbreak in North Kivu.