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Ebola: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

An outbreak of Ebola was declared in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on 1 August. I am updating the House on what the British Government are doing to support the immediate response, to support neighbouring countries to be prepared if the outbreak were to spread, and to help countries to improve public health systems and strengthen their resilience to deadly diseases like Ebola.

DRC outbreak and UK response

The DRC Government and World Health Organisation issued a single response plan on 10 August. DFID has contributed financially and the plan is now fully funded and delivering a range of activity including vaccinations, treatment centres, mobile laboratories, case management and logistics. As the response has progressed, the authorities have identified confirmed cases beyond the initial affected area. It is highly likely that the single response plan will be revised in coming weeks, in which case the UK stands ready to provide additional funding.

The UK also supports other international response mechanisms which are contributing to tackling this latest outbreak, including the UN central emergency response fund (CERF) and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) contingency fund for emergencies. The UK is the largest donor to CERF and the second largest donor to the WHO contingency fund.

We are supporting this Ebola response in other ways. In 2014, DFID worked with the Wellcome Trust to develop an Ebola vaccine, which was subsequently developed by others into the vaccine now being administered by the WHO, Médecins Sans Frontières and the DRC Government. This vaccine was also used in the previous Ebola outbreak in DRC, in May. Furthermore, an epidemiologist from the UK public health rapid support team was deployed with the WHO team of experts to the affected area to carry out initial technical assessments.

Neighbouring countries and preparedness

This is a serious outbreak, taking place in a conflict-affected region close to the borders of Rwanda and Uganda. The region also hosts a high number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Preparedness work in neighbouring countries is therefore critically important.

A member of the UK’s emergency medical team has been deployed to Rwanda, to support the WHO in helping Rwanda to prepare in case of potential spread of Ebola over the border with the DRC.

In Uganda, the UK is supporting the Ministry of Health and WHO preparedness work, and will provide funding for WHO, UNICEF, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Programme.

In South Sudan, we provided initial funding to WHO to support preparatory work. We will consider with other donors, including the United States, the best way to support further contingency measures.

Risk to UK is low, but we are prepared

Public Health England assesses the risk of this outbreak to the UK as negligible to very low. It will continue to monitor and assess the outbreak closely. The UK remains ready to respond should that risk change.

There is no link between Ebola and Monkeypox.

Longer-term UK support to tackle deadly diseases

Deadly diseases like Ebola, Zika and Yellow Fever pose a serious threat to global health security. The 2014 outbreak in West Africa threatened to affect 1.4 million people, cost African economies at least US $1.6 billion, and required a major international effort to contain, with the UK leading the response in Sierra Leone.

We have a vested interest in helping sub-Saharan Africa improve public health systems and build resilience against these diseases. DFID is investing £40 million over four years through the tackling deadly diseases in Africa programme (TDDAP) to support preparedness, detection and response work in the countries most at risk. This is complemented by Public Health England’s £16 million programme focused on preventing and responding to similar outbreaks. TDDAP is designed to reduce the impact of communicable disease outbreaks and epidemics on African populations. This will also benefit the UK, by reducing the risk of an outbreak spreading far beyond its source.