The persistence of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak and its deadly spread to Uganda in recent days show how societal issues are as crucial as scientific advances in controlling disease outbreaks, specialists in global public health say.
Medical scientists, prompted by a devastating West African Ebola epidemic between 2013 and 2016, have worked fast to develop cutting edge vaccines, treatments and antibody-based therapies they hoped would prevent or halt future outbreaks of the virus.
That includes an Ebola vaccine developed by Merck & Co Inc that proved more than 95% effective in clinical trials.
But the current Ebola outbreak has continued to spread relentlessly since it began in August 2018 in Democratic Republic Congo’s North Kivu province.
It has infected more than 2 000 people, killing at least 1 400 of them. And, in recent days, it reached Uganda, where several cases have been recorded, all in people who had come across the border from Congo.
Public health experts say this underscores the importance of factors beyond medicine, such as trust in authority, engagement and accurate information, in successfully controlling outbreaks of infectious diseases.
“Even in the presence of sensitive rapid testing, drugs and a vaccine, this Ebola outbreak has continued to burn on,” said Ian Mackay, a virologist and associate professor at the University of Queensland in Australia.
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