The second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has claimed the lives of nearly 100 children.
At least 97 children, 65 of whom were younger than 5 years old, have died from Ebola virus disease in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo since the outbreak was declared there Aug. 1, according to a press release from Save the Children, a charity supporting the fight against the current epidemic.
“We are at a crossroads,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s country director in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said in a statement Sunday. “If we don’t take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.”
A total of 811 people have reported symptoms of hemorrhagic fever in the country’s northeastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. Among those cases, 750 have tested positive for Ebola, which causes an often-fatal type of hemorrhagic fever, according to Sunday night’s bulletin from the country’s health ministry.
The growing outbreak has a case fatality rate of nearly 63 percent. There have been 510 deaths thus far, including 449 people who died from confirmed cases of Ebola. The other deaths are from probable cases, the ministry said.
The number of new cases spiked in January, from about 20 a week to more than 40, according to Save the Children.
“It is paramount to convince communities that Ebola is an urgent and real concern,” Kerr said. “People have disrupted funerals because they didn’t believe the deceased had succumbed to the virus. Aid workers were threatened because it was believed they spread Ebola. We have to scale up our efforts to reach out to the vocal youth and community leaders to build trust and to help us turn this tide. Treating the people who are sick is essential, but stopping Ebola from spreading further is just as important.”
Global health organizations have raised alarm over the high number of children infected in the ongoing outbreak. Children, who are at greater risk than adults of dying from the virus, account for about 30 percent of all cases, including 116 who were younger than 5, according to a Feb. 7 report from the World Health Organization, the global health arm of the United Nations, which has deemed the risk of transmission “very high” at the national and regional levels, while the risk globally remains low.
This is the 10th outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the most severe that the Central African nation has seen since 1976, when scientists first identified the virus near the eponymous Ebola River. It’s also one of the world’s worst, second only to the 2014-2016 outbreak in multiple West African nations that infected 28,652 people and killed 11,325, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s the first Ebola outbreak in history to occur in an active war zone. North Kivu and Ituri, the two provinces where people have been infected, are awash with conflict and insecurity. Health and frontline workers are facing sporadic attacks from armed groups operating near the country’s mineral-rich, volatile borderland with Uganda.
“The DRC is a country suffering from violence and conflict and an extreme hunger crisis — some 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished,” Kerr said. “The main concerns for many people are safety and making sure they have enough to eat. But Ebola has to be a priority too.”