Nearly 600 people have contracted Ebola since last August in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, making the ongoing outbreak the second largest in the 43-year history of humanity’s battle with the deadly virus.
And there is a genuine threat that this Congo health crisis—the 10th the African nation has faced—could become essentially permanent in the war-torn region bordering South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, making a terrible transition from being epidemic to endemic.
Despite having a tool kit at its disposal that is unrivaled—including a vaccine, new diagnostics, experimental treatments, and a strong body of knowledge regarding how to battle the hemorrhage-causing virus—the small army of international health responders and humanitarian workers in Congo is playing whack-a-mole against a microbe that keeps popping up unexpectedly and proving impossible to control.
This is not because of any special attributes of the classic strain of Ebola—the same genetic strain that has been successfully tackled many times before—but because of humans and their behaviors in a quarter-century-old war zone.
The sheer duration of the present epidemic means that the 4.5 million people in the currently affected North Kivu province of Congo are no longer the only ones in danger. The rest of the country and populations in the bordering nations of Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Burundi are now at risk, too.