The most recent Ebola outbreak in the Congo is worth paying attention to, writes Jonathan Compo.
Last Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak currently unfolding in the Democratic Republic is an emergency of international concern. The outbreak had been contained to the Kivu region in the northwest of the country but last week the first case was confirmed in the city of Goma. Goma has two million residents and an international airport. An Ebola outbreak in the city increases the risk of the virus spreading.
This outbreak is the second largest of the virus, after the world-scaring 2014 international outbreak centered in Liberia. Though that outbreak eventually received extensive and hysterical international coverage, largely concerning the few Ebola patients who made it to the United States, the outbreak went largely unremarked on and unaddressed for months before a sufficient response was mounted.
The lack of attention
The lack of attention leads to a lack of resources addressing the conflict, and that lack of resources lead to deaths among and overwork of the few local responders and of the Doctors Without Borders team. Doctors Without Borders was the only international aid organization to devote significant resources to addressing the 2014 outbreak when it was still in its early stages.
The international global health community should learn from the failures of the response to the 2014 outbreak. The press can help teach these lessons. Ebola is a humanitarian crisis right now in Kivu. It is costing thousands of lives. It deserves to be covered.
Lack of coverage
The story of this outbreak, however, is not in the threat it poses to developed nations. The WHO doesn’t recommend that travel to the DRC stop, only that travelers employ caution. It is still safe to go to the country. If you don’t go to the DRC, the virus will never reach you.
The relative lack of coverage this outbreak has received, and the lack of coverage the former outbreak received until there was a perceived (if exaggerated) threat to developed, high-income countries is a symptom of a tendency for developed countries to ignore or minimize high-stakes news from lower-income countries.
This is something I have been guilty of. I urge other writers reading this update to also consider the health of low-income countries as news. A crisis in the Congo is as important as a crisis anywhere.