Mar 15, 2019 - Health

World Health Organization gives mixed message on Ebola fight

Data: DRC Ministry of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon, Harry Stevens/Axios
Data: DRC Ministry of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon, Harry Stevens/Axios

A week after the nonprofit group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) issued a warning that the fight against the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was on the verge of failing, the head of the World Health Organization provided a more upbeat message on Thursday.

Why it matters: This is the second-largest Ebola outbreak on record, and the WHO is taking the lead role in combatting it. How this organization views the response effort is critical to determining the course of this outbreak.

Details: WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, who just returned from a trip to the DRC alongside CDC director Robert Redfield, touted the fact that despite the outbreak continuing to flare within the Congo, it has not spread to any other countries.

  • He also said the number of new cases per week is down since January.

"Despite the incredibly difficult situation, the outbreak has been contained in 11 out of the 28 communities that have had cases," Tedros said. "You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting."

Tedros warned that the outbreak could grow worse if the security situation deteriorates.

Context: Medical teams struggling to extinguish this outbreak have been battling violent attacks from rebel groups and communities with a high level of distrust against them, the latest occurring Thursday.

Last week, MSF called for a new approach to gain the trust of the local population. One of MSF's biggest concerns is that a high proportion of new deaths have been community cases, unknown to authorities beforehand. Such cases can help spread the virus further.

Johns Hopkins' public health expert Jennifer Nuzzo says she continues to have concerns about the reliability of the case statistics, due to the interruptions from security incidents. “I just really worry that we’re missing cases,” she tells Axios.

Go deeper: Axios' complete Ebola outbreak coverage

Go deeper