Ebola Emergency In Congo Hits 'Not Happy' First Anniversary : Goats and Soda The crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now entering its second year. Medical workers discuss causes for optimism — and pessimism.
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Ebola Outbreak In Congo Enters Year 2. Is An End In Sight?

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Ebola Outbreak In Congo Enters Year 2. Is An End In Sight?

Ebola Outbreak In Congo Enters Year 2. Is An End In Sight?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today marks one year since an Ebola outbreak began in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that outbreak is still spreading.

On August 1 of last year, the World Health Organization confirmed four Ebola cases in the conflict-torn east of the country. And since then, the outbreak has grown steadily worse. There have now been 2,700 cases and more than 1,800 deaths from the disease, making this the second-largest Ebola outbreak ever.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has been following this story and joins me. Hi there, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: So we're talking about 1,800 deaths here. I mean, that sounds tragic. Help us understand exactly what's happening.

BEAUBIEN: I mean, the situation is really pretty bad. You know, the number of new cases is down from a peak that we were getting in April, where we had about 120, 126 cases a week back then. Now we're down to about 80 new cases every week. But obviously, you know, that's a huge number of Ebola cases just per week.

And one of the greatest fears here has been that this outbreak would reach the city of Goma. It's a major transportation, commercial hub - about 2 million people. It's on Lake Kivu, and it's right up against the Rwandan border.

And this week, we heard that there's a second case that has turned up in Goma. This man had gotten sick, and he was being cared for by family members at home before dying yesterday at a clinic. And now there's confirmation of a third case in Goma, and we are seeing reports that this is a daughter of the man who just died.

So obviously, there's a lot of concern that this outbreak may be getting a foothold in Goma and could be spreading elsewhere in the city.

GREENE: Weren't we talking about the world being better prepared to deal with Ebola? I mean, why has this outbreak gotten so bad?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. After the West Africa outbreak, there was this sense that, you know, we're in much better shape. We know more about it. We've got new treatment options. We've got a vaccine that's out there.

But in this one, it really has been this perfect storm. The area that this occurred in is incredibly poor, that had poor health care infrastructure beforehand. It's incredibly volatile; there's these militias that have basically been running that part of the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades. They're vying for control of minerals. And, you know, they have really undermined any governmental institutions that would be there.

And then all these health care workers show up to try to contain the Ebola treatment unit - that Ebola, you know, outbreak, and some of them were attacked, even killed. The World Health Organization yesterday was saying they've documented 198 attacks on Ebola clinics and workers over the last year. So obviously, that's an incredibly high number for attacks on a health response, you know, even in a declared war zone.

GREENE: Well, I mean, yeah, it is a war zone, but why attack - specifically attack clinics that you know are treating a disease?

BEAUBIEN: Because there's just these incredibly high levels of distrust of outsiders. This is an area that's 1,500 miles away from Kinshasa. Some people think that this is a hoax of some kind. And then when the presidential elections were occurring last year, they basically canceled the balloting only in the areas where the Ebola was spreading, further leading to more people feeling like this is some sort of political scandal. You know, there's been some jealousy about jobs going to some people and not others. There's just a lot of issues that have made this a really difficult social situation.

GREENE: As difficult as it is - I mean, you mentioned there were lessons from the West Africa outbreak - are we seeing those lessons play out in any way here?

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely, we are. There's new treatments that are being tested, that are being used. People are getting access to them. And probably the biggest issue is that there's now a vaccine, and it has been widely used. About 200,000 people have gotten this vaccine that - people say it's very effective. And people say this has kept this from being an explosive outbreak like we had in West Africa.

GREENE: NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks for your reporting.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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