Youngest ebola survivor brings hope to Congo

The youngest survivor of the Ebola outbreak received her discharge certificate from the Beni Ebola Treatment Center on Wednesday, according to the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ministry of Health. Full credit: Ministry of Health/Democratic Republic of Congo

The youngest survivor of the Ebola outbreak received her discharge certificate from the Beni Ebola Treatment Center on Wednesday, according to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ministry of Health.

Born October 31, baby Bénédicte was admitted to the center at 6 days old. Her mother, who had a confirmed case of Ebola, died during childbirth, the ministry reported Thursday.

To give her the best chance of surviving, doctors, health care workers and nannies took turns at her bedside 24 hours a day throughout her hospitalization. All of her nannies were themselves Ebola survivors, who are able to care for sick children wearing only lighter protective gear.

Their reassuring presence and extra attention is fundamental to the care of sick children, according to the ministry.

In 2015, another baby born with congenital Ebola in a Guinea treatment center survived, according to Tarik Jašarević, a spokesman for the World Health Organization.

On average, Ebola — which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases hemorrhaging — kills about half of those infected, but fatality rates in individual outbreaks have varied. The latest outbreak in Congo, which began August 1, has a case fatality rate of approximately 58%.

The total number of probable Ebola patients in this outbreak is 515, with 303 probable deaths, the ministry reported Thursday. An additional 96 people who doctors suspect may be sick with Ebola are under investigation.

The ministry also reported that 179 people have recovered from the life-threatening illness.

“Survivor monitoring activities commenced in Mangina and Beni on 24 November, followed by Butembo on 26 November,” Jašarević wrote in an email. “46 staff were trained on the medical and psychological follow-up of survivors.”

The current plan is to see all survivors once a month for the next 12 months, he added.

This is the 10th outbreak since 1976 in Congo, where the virus is endemic, and the second this year. It is also now the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, topped only by one in West Africa in 2014, when the disease killed more than 11,000 people.

North Kivu province, which includes the cities of Beni, Kalunguta and Mabalako, remains the epicenter of the outbreak, though cases have been reported in neighboring Ituri province, according to the World Health Organization. The two provinces are among the most populated in the nation and border Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

Not only is North Kivu experiencing spread of deadly Ebola, but long-term conflict smolders there, with 50 armed groups causing intermittent violence, according to WHO. The public health agency estimates that more than a million refugees and internally displaced people are traveling through and out of North Kivu and Ituri, and this movement is a potential risk factor for the spread of Ebola. Another complication: a high number of malaria cases in the region.

Despite these “multifaceted challenges,” WHO remains confident the outbreak can be contained and brought to an end through proven public health measures and new tools (including vaccination and therapeutics), the agency said in a report Tuesday.

In late November, the ministry announced the launch of a first randomized control trial for three Ebola treatment drugs. Additionally, 45,647 people have been vaccinated since early August.