Informal Interactive Dialogue on Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
On Wednesday, 31 July, Council members are scheduled to hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on the Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Germany, and South Africa requested this meeting. Holding it as an IID allows the Council to hear in a private setting from briefers from outside of the UN Secretariat. The anticipated briefers are World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme Executive Director Michael Ryan and AU Comissioner for Social Affairs, Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil , who are expected to brief by video-teleconference about their respective organisations’ efforts in helping the DRC contain the outbreak. UN Ebola Emergency Response Coordinator David Gressly and Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator for OCHA Mark Lowcock are also expected to brief. DRC Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita Wa Lufuta will also participate. Following the meeting, Council members may begin negotiations on a draft presidential statement on Ebola in DRC, which was circulated on Monday, 29 July.
On 17 July, almost a year after the current Ebola outbreak in the DRC began, WHO declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC). A PHEIC has only been declared four times in WHO’s history, including the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. According to WHO’s International Health Regulations of 2005, a PHEIC is “an extraordinary event which is determined, as provided in these Regulations: to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease; and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” WHO has also said that a PHEIC “implies a situation that is serious, unusual or unexpected; carries implications for public health beyond the affected State’s national border; and may require immediate international action. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on the international community to work with the DRC, end the outbreak and build a better health system. Ryan is likely to reiterate this message. He may also stress that there should be no restriction of travel to, and trade with, the DRC based on the PHEIC declaration.
Since August 2018, over 1750 people have died and 2641 cases have been reported. While mostly located in North Kivu and Ituri, the virus has spread beyond eastern DRC, with one case in Goma, a city of two million people, and three Ebola deaths across the border in Uganda confirmed last month. Although there have been no confirmed Ebola cases outside the DRC since then, a second case in Goma was confirmed today. The area around Beni Health Zone is experiencing a second wave of Ebola activity, and WHO says that this outbreak is longer and involves more cases than the first one. The DRC and international community are struggling to contain the virus within the DRC. Efforts to stop the outbreak have been hampered by regional insecurity, community mistrust, and political tensions. There have been numerous cases of health care facilities being attacked, and several health care responders have been killed in targeted violence.
On 20 July President Félix Tshisekedi announced that he had appointed a committee to coordinate the government’s response, led by the head of the DRC’s National Institute for Biomedical Research, Jean-Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, which would report directly to him. Apparently in response, DRC’s Health Minister, Oly Ilunga, who had been overseeing the response since it started last year, resigned over differences regarding how to respond to the Ebola crisis.
The African Union (AU), through the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has provided support to the government of the DRC, WHO and its partners including through the deployment of healthcare workers to the eastern part of the DRC. Elfadil is expected to talk about the AU’s efforts to fight the outbreak. The co-sponsors of the meeting thought it was important to include the AU as it is a critical partner in the region.
Both Gressly and Lowcock are expected to brief members on the UN’s involvement in attempts to contain the spread of the virus. Gressly, in his role as coordinator, may be able to speak more directly about the situation on the ground and how the UN, and more specifically MONUSCO, is assisting the response.
The DRC is currently asking for $288 million to implement its new Ebola strategy. On 24 July, the World Bank announced an additional $300 million to the Ebola response in the DRC. On the same day, the US Agency for International Aid, which has provided $138 million for the response to Ebola since August, announced an additional $38 million.
Wednesday’s meeting could signal a gradual shift by the Council to focus more attention on the Ebola situation in the DRC. While Council members have been regularly updated on the situation through briefings and Secretary-General reports on the DRC, and under “any other business,” briefings on Ebola in the DRC, this will mark its first stand-alone meeting since the beginning of the current outbreak. Some Council members are not comfortable with the Council becoming too heavily involved in this issue. These members believe that it is better discussed in bodies whose mandate includes health-related crises. Nevertheless, they have agreed to this meeting as a way to galvanise greater international support for DRC authorities.
France, as penholder on DRC, has circulated a draft presidential statement. The last Council product on this issue was resolution 2439 adopted unanimously in October 2018 under the agenda item Peace and security in Africa which reiterated the Council’s deep concern about the security and humanitarian situation in the DRC and expressed concern about the security situation in Ebola-affected areas, which has hampered the response efforts. In addition, it demanded that all parties ensure safe and secure humanitarian access and emphasised the need for the international community’s engagement and support. The resolution was an initiative of Ethiopia and Sweden, both of which are no longer on the Council.
During the 2014-2016 epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea that killed more than 11,000 people the Council became involved several months into the health emergency. Its open debate on 18 September 2014 held under the agenda item “Peace and Security in Africa” was the Council’s first “emergency meeting” on a health crisis. The current DRC outbreak stands second only to that one in terms of deaths. The Council adopted resolution 2177 at the open debate determining that “the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security”. Keeping in mind past action, some members may want to explore further steps the Council can take to bring greater global attention to the current Ebola outbreak.