The two burgeoning Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea require swift action “to avoid catastrophic consequences,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
It is the first official White House statement on the recurrence of Ebola in the two African countries. Psaki said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation in Central and West Africa.
“While the world is plagued by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola has re-emerged in both Central and West Africa at the same time. The world cannot afford to go the other way,” Psaki wrote in the statement. “We must do everything in our power to respond quickly, effectively and by reasonable means to stop these outbreaks before they turn into large-scale epidemics.”
The World Health Organization announced last week that it had confirmed new cases of Ebola in Butembo, a city in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city was an epicenter of the world’s second largest Ebola outbreak, which was declared over in June. WHO officials said Friday they would transport vaccines to the hard-to-reach city and try to contain the highly deadly disease before it spreads widely.
Regardless, Guinea officials confirmed the reappearance of Ebola in N’Zerekore in southern Guinea over the weekend. The West African nation declared an Ebola epidemic on Sunday after at least three people died and four more were infected with the disease. The neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia have put their citizens on alert.
In contrast to the highly infectious coronavirus, which can be transmitted by people without symptoms, it is believed that Ebola spreads mainly through people who are already visibly ill. The virus spreads through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of people who are sick or have died of the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ebola has an average death rate of 50% which, according to the WHO, can vary depending on the outbreak.
Psaki said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with ambassadors from Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Liberia on Tuesday “to convey the United States’ readiness to work closely with these countries”.
“Mr. Sullivan highlighted President Biden’s commitment to lead the United States to strengthen health security and create better systems to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies,” said Psaki. “Outbreaks require a quick and overwhelming response to avoid disastrous consequences.”
The recurrence of Ebola in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has hit global health specialists particularly hard, as these countries have the two worst Ebola outbreaks in history. The outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, declared in June, lasted nearly two years. At the time of the end, there were a total of 3,481 cases and 2,299 deaths, according to WHO.
The infamous Ebola outbreak in West Africa began in Guinea in 2014 before spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia, according to WHO. By the end of 2016, there were more than 28,000 cases, including over 11,000 deaths, according to the WHO.
“Since the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the United States has sought to increase and prioritize health security support with partners under the global health security agenda and with strong support from Congress,” Psaki added Tuesday. “We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas – even in the fight against COVID, we must ensure the capacity and funding of health security worldwide.”
During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the US CDC confirmed 11 cases of Ebola in the US, mostly among medical professionals who had traveled to Africa to help with the response. Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of the system-wide program for specific pathogens at New York City Health + Hospitals, told CNBC on Tuesday that the city was working to ensure that its outbreak response protocols are up to date.
“Every time an epidemic is reported, at least in New York City – we know we are a travel center – we need to make sure our people are up to date on skills [personal protective equipment] and identify these patients, “she said in a telephone interview.” There’s a big mess just to make sure the concept of the operation plan is dusted off. “