“Once again, we’re facing an outbreak of Ebola — the 10th in the DRC.
“And once again, we face familiar challenges — and more. An unforgiving disease that requires 100 per cent of cases to be controlled and isolated. A high-density, mobile population. A lingering mistrust of aid. More children and women among those infected and dying of the disease. And a new, unexpected threat: security concerns and direct attacks that impede access.
“In some ways, we’re in a better place than 2014. Building on what we’ve learned from previous outbreaks, we’re now working as a tightly co-ordinated team, using a common Strategic Response Plan.
“Since the beginning of the epidemic, UNICEF and our partners have deployed more than 650 staff members to the effort. All under the excellent leadership of the Ministry of Health, which is well-trained and experienced from previous outbreaks.
“Together, we’re providing drinking water to more than 1.3 million people. We’re providing sanitation and hygiene kits — and emergency nutritional care for Ebola patients. We’re directly assisting 950 affected families. We’re supporting orphans and unaccompanied children. And we’ve reached more than 10 million people with information on preventing this disease and reducing transmission — including in schools.
“We’re also deploying innovative approaches — isolation cubes for treatment, new vaccines, experimental therapeutics, and big-data analysis to track the spread of the outbreak.
“Our protection teams are doing intense-contact follow-up work, to ensure well-being within communities and to prevent spread to non-affected areas.
“We’re putting a renewed emphasis on risk communication and community engagement, to improve trust in — and uptake of — vital health and prevention services.
“And the UN peacekeeping force is providing a welcome security umbrella for all that we’re doing.
“Thanks to this work, we’ve controlled the outbreak in Equateur, and in many spots in North Kivu, including Beni. We’ve also succeeded in preventing the outbreak from spreading to other regions and countries.
“But the outbreak remains active. There is a serious risk of it reaching major urban centres, like Goma.
“Our staff members — across all of our organizations — are stretched thin. They’re facing continued community resistance — and new security threats.
“In this uncertain environment, we will be strained to control new outbreaks in DRC — or even respond to other health emergencies like cholera or polio that might emerge in neighbouring countries.
“We must find ways to stay one step ahead of Ebola.
“And we can do it. The excellent work of Uganda and Rwanda to prepare has made all the difference in preventing an outbreak.
“Which is why — in addition to our immediate response — UNICEF is working with our partners with a new urgency to strengthen health systems and local response capabilities over the long-term.
“This includes bolstering immunization stocks and capacity.
“It includes scaling-up surveillance and isolation capabilities, especially in urban areas — so important in controlling the Lagos outbreak in 2014.
“And it includes investing in stronger communication efforts with communities, and new prevention and control efforts in health facilities and schools. This includes a new team of anthropologists and communication for development specialists to improve our research and assessment efforts.
“In the meantime, we must make the most of a key window of opportunity, before the Strategic Response Plan ends in July 2019. We must continue raising the alarm on this emergency to summon more funds, recruit more staff, and be strategic about where — and when — we deploy current staff.
“Throughout, we must work closely with the new government to reduce security threats, strengthen health systems for the future, and gain access to every child and community affected.
“Ebola is unforgiving — but it’s not unbeatable.
“Let’s draw inspiration — and learn lessons — from our successes so far, and act now, before the outbreak spreads to Goma or crosses the border.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Jemima, an Ebola survivor, cares for a child at a UNICEF-supported crèche in Beni, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo