The Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be over within six months, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of new cases per week is now half of what it was at the beginning of this year.
“Our target is now to finish it in the next six months,” he told reporters in Geneva, warning that areas of Butembo and Katwa remained Ebola hotspots, with insecurity threatening effots to contain the disease.
“It’s always good to plan beyond the horizon to prepare for any eventualities,” Ghebreyesys added.
This contradicts a statement last week from the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity, which said that signs indicate Ebola is not under control.
“We have a striking contradiction: on the one hand a rapid and large outbreak response with new medical tools such as vaccines and treatments that show promising outcomes when people come early – and on the other hand, people with Ebola are dying in their communities, and do not trust the Ebola response enough to come forward,” said International President of MSF, Dr Joanne Liu.
Ghebreyesus, who has just returned from the outbreak zone, said local people were wondering there was so much international focus on Ebola while other problems, including cholera and malaria, were being overlooked.
“I’d actually like to call upon the international community to link the outbreak control now with developing the health system,” he said.
“That’s a big challenge. Otherwise we will appear as if we are preventing Ebola getting into other countries and we don’t care about the demands of the community.”
He said the WHO would not leave when the outbreak ended, but would help the government to build stronger health services.
Ghebreyesus called on international donors to fund the $148 million plan to tackle Ebola in the next six months, a tiny spend compared to the potential cost.
Over 580 people have died in the current outbreak, with nearly 1,000 believed to be infected. It is the tenth outbreak in Congo’s history.
The worst outbreak, which killed 11,300 people in West Africa in 2013-2016, cost an estimated $53 billion, according to one study.