The last patient treated for Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was discharged this week the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, bringing the 19-month-old outbreak closer to an end.
The patient’s release from hospital in Beni, feted by hospital staff who sang, danced and drummed on trash cans, marks the first time there have been no active cases since the outbreak was declared in August 2018.
In that period, the virus killed 2 264 people and infected nearly 1 200 more, making it the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history. Only the 2013-16 epidemic in West Africa was deadlier, killing more than 11 000.
Congo has now gone 14 days without any new confirmed cases. The outbreak can be declared over once 42 days pass without a new case – equivalent to two cycles of 21 days, the maximum incubation period for the virus.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the developments as “good news, not just for me, but for the world,” at a briefing and the UN-appointed co-ordinator for response efforts said he was stepping down to return to the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.
A WHO spokesman cautioned the outbreak was not yet over, citing difficulties tracking cases in eastern Congo, where militia violence is widespread.
“Because of the complex security environment, Ebola transmission outside groups currently under monitoring cannot be ruled out,” said spokesman Tarik Jasarevic. “A single case could re-ignite the epidemic.”
Even as caseloads declined last month and Ebola was overshadowed by the rapid spread of coronavirus worldwide, the WHO believed the outbreak constituted an international health emergency.
The current outbreak – Congo’s tenth since 1976 – followed another, smaller outbreak elsewhere in the country in 2018. Congo’s dense tropical forests are considered a natural reservoir for the disease.
After receiving her survivor’s certificate the patient released on Tuesday, Semida Masika, said she was delighted to be headed home.
“As I am the last survivor, I say thank you very much and praise be to God,” she said.