Ebola outbreak in Africa ends — but gaps in public health leave region vulnerable

Jul 3, 2017

By Erika Check Hayden

Epidemiologist Anne Rimoin boarded a flight to Kinshasa on 19 May with a precious cargo in her luggage: the components of a diagnostic test for Ebola.

Rimoin hoped that the test, the GeneXpert Ebola Assay, would help officials to track cases in the latest Ebola outbreak, which was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on 11 May. The test was developed during the disastrous 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The existence of the Ebola assay is a sign that the world’s ability to respond to outbreaks of the virus has improved. But the test was not available where it was needed when Ebola erupted in the DRC, says Rimoin, of the University of California, Los Angeles, who has worked with the Congolese Ministry of Health for 15 years. “The fact that I had to go out there with diagnostics in my briefcase is an example of the fact that we’re not fully prepared on that score,” she says.

On 2 July, the Congolese government and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared an end to the DRC outbreak — but public-health officials caution that its low death toll doesn’t prove that the world has learnt all the lessons of the West African crisis. They credit the fact that only four people died to the expertise of Congolese officials, who had dealt with seven previous Ebola outbreaks, and to the remoteness of the northern Bas Uele province where the outbreak occurred.

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