- Blog Post
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Three months after health authorities from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) declared the country had brought to an end its eleventh outbreak of Ebola, the disease has killed the wife of a survivor in a hospital in Butembo, a large city (estimated population of around one million) in North Kivu province. (In earlier Ebola outbreaks, Butembo has been a prominent treatment center.) Despite the bad news, some encouragement is that health authorities know what to do: World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist are tracing more than seventy persons with whom the victim had contact and are thoroughly disinfecting any places she had visited. While it is too soon to assess the seriousness of this outbreak, such measures raise hopes that it can be contained. But this latest outbreak also underscores that the disease is endemic in eastern Congo and hence is likely to reemerge.
Butembo is an important trading and mining center in North Kivu, of which it is the second largest city after Goma. The province has seen banditry and warlordism, yet Butembo has in the past managed to insulate [PDF] itself from the worst episodes of violence. North Kivu is adjacent to Rwanda and Uganda and is not far from Burundi and Tanzania. Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania remain politically opaque. Coronavirus is believed to be widespread in East Africa; there should now be concern over the possibility that Ebola could spread elsewhere in the region. Tanzania's regime of John Magufuli is a particular concern, having refused to share information with the WHO about possible Ebola cases in Dar es Salaam in 2019 and, since then, rejecting public health measures based on science—including vaccines—to contain COVID-19. Magufuli claims that Tanzania is free of the virus because of the power of prayer.
This latest outbreak of Ebola against the backdrop of COVID-19 reminds that Africa has a particularly heavy disease burden that in some places is exacerbated by political unrest and warlordism. And, through COVID-19, the world has learned that disease knows no boundaries. Thus far, the United States has been largely spared from Ebola; that might not be true of another, now-unknown disease that has its origin in the rainforest.