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To Cure Ebola Will Take More Than a Pill

What Congo Must Do to Prevent Future Outbreaks

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo fills a syringe with the Ebola vaccine Baz Ratner / Reuters

Two experimental drugs used to treat the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are working, medical researchers say. Infected people who took the medications as part of a trial survived at rates of 66–71 percent, compared with 30 percent for those who were not vaccinated and did not receive medication. Ninety percent of patients who received treatment within the first days of showing symptoms survived. These therapies have the potential to transform Ebola from a near-certain death sentence into a difficult but survivable disease.

Congo especially stands to benefit. The country has experienced ten Ebola outbreaks since 1976, and its health authorities are adept at identifying and isolating infected individuals, tracing and monitoring exposure networks, and controlling the spread of the virus. But as the current outbreak in the eastern province of North Kivu has shown, no amount of medical preparedness can overcome the difficulties of fighting an outbreak under conditions of insecurity.

Over the last 12 months, more than 2,000 Ebola patients have died in eastern Congo, a region that has been racked by episodic instability for the last two decades. This Ebola outbreak is the second deadliest ever, eclipsed only by the one that claimed more than 11,000 lives in West Africa between 2014 and 2016. And the virus keeps on spreading: health workers confirm an average of 81 new cases each week, according to the World Health Organization.

Congo’s health ministry and the World Health Organization have led the international response to the outbreak, and their measures have proven increasingly effective. But the new drug therapies alone can’t stop this or any future epidemic. Eradicating Ebola in Congo will require building public trust among Congolese and working with community organizations in order to reach vulnerable populations and overcome governance issues.

A DAUNTING GROUND ZERO

North Kivu sits on the far eastern edge of Congo, along the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. The region was the epicenter of two major wars that drew in many of Congo’s neighbors in the late 1990s and the early years

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