World Bank deploys US$300m to DR Congo to contain Ebola outbreak

World Bank deploys US$300m to DR Congo to contain Ebola outbreak

The World Bank is stepping up crisis funding to the Democratic Republic of Congo
The World Bank is stepping up crisis funding to the Democratic Republic of Congo to improve response to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. (AFP/Pamela TULIZO)

WASHINGTON: The World Bank announced on Wednesday (Jul 24) it was deploying another US$300 million in crisis aid for DR Congo to help contain the year-old Ebola outbreak.

The financing comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week declared the current outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The funds will be added to the US$100 million the bank provided after Ebola appeared in August 2018, the World Bank said in a statement.

But officials say another US$200 million could be needed in the coming six months.

"Together, we must take urgent action to stop the deadly Ebola epidemic that is destroying lives and livelihoods in the Democratic Republic of Congo," World Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

"The communities and health workers on the front line of this outbreak urgently need more support and resources from the international community to prevent this crisis from worsening inside the country and from spreading across borders."

Since August last year, Ebola has killed more than 1,700 of the 2,500 people infected in DR Congo in the second-biggest epidemic since more than 11,300 people died between 2014 and 2016 in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

DR Congo Ebola outbreak
Factfile on the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo that has left hundreds of people dead since April 2018. (AFP/John SAEKI)

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus applauded the announcement.

"We hope this will encourage other partners to step up their contributions to end this outbreak," he said on Twitter.

Annette Dixon, World Bank vice president for human development who oversees health programs, said the new funding "signals that we are really concerned about the need to scale up the response because the pandemic is not showing signs of weakening at this point."

While the country has had a good track record of quickly ending previous Ebola pandemics, the current outbreak is concentrated in an extremely poor region of the country that faces many other issues, including lack of security, she told AFP.

BEYOND EBOLA

There must be a "recognition that these communities need support before and beyond Ebola," she said in an interview, noting that these communities also had outbreaks of cholera, measles and malaria.

DR Congo's health minister Oly Ilunga resigned on Monday in a dispute with President Felix Tshisekedi over the government's Ebola response and plans to introduce a second vaccine.

But that has not derailed efforts in the country, Dixon said, and the World Bank is working with the government on the crisis response plan covering the next six months, which is expected to require about US$500 million in funding, including the US$300 million announced on Wednesday.

The Ebola virus is highly contagious and has an average fatality rate of around 50 per cent. It is transmitted to humans from wild animals and spreads among people through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person.

Responders had hoped that this Ebola outbreak would be easier to control, thanks in part to a new vaccine.

While more than 160,000 people in the affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri have been vaccinated, containment efforts have been hampered by chronic unrest in the region and a lack of trust in communities for health workers.

The new aid - grants and near zero-interest loans - will go towards the frontline health response in areas of the country impacted by the outbreak, the bank said.

Dixon said a key priority is gaining trust of local communities, including providing free medical care, so residents will feel comfortable reporting health issues and the virus can be traced.

The funding also will go to "cash-for-work" programs, which pay unemployed residents who participate in local infrastructure projects to alleviate the poverty in the region and remove financial barriers in communities that are "very stressed already."

Source: AFP/de

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