Health secretary Alex Azar and a sizable delegation of other Trump administration officials plan to travel to the region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo struggling to address a long-running Ebola outbreak, a show of political force meant to signal U.S. support for the response effort.
The mission, announced Tuesday, marks Azar’s first trip to the region since the start of the outbreak. He will be accompanied by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has previously traveled to the outbreak zone.
“The DRC is facing the most complex Ebola outbreak we have ever seen,” Azar told reporters Tuesday morning. “Ending the outbreak will take continued commitment and persistence.”
Also accompanying Azar will be Tim Ziemer, senior deputy assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and staff of the National Security Council.
The group will travel to northeastern DRC, where the outbreak has been underway for over a year, and to the neighboring countries of Uganda and Rwanda.
The outbreak is occurring in a part of DRC that runs along its eastern borders with these two countries; on several occasions in recent months, people infected in DRC have crossed into Uganda. To date there has been no local spread of the virus within Uganda.
The delegation will meet with officials of the countries and with the director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has traveled to the outbreak zone on 10 previous occasions.
Among the topics up for discussion will be U.S. support for the outbreak, including the deployment of government employees. A small team of CDC Ebola experts was in the region in late August of 2018, but was ordered out of the outbreak zone within days because of insecurity.
The experts have had limited opportunities to work in the outbreak zone since. Redfield said currently the CDC is engaged in five health zones where the State Department has deemed it safe for them to work. There are also 35 CDC staff in Goma, the regional capital, located south of the outbreak zone. The response operation is headquartered at Goma.
CDC staff have also been operating in neighboring countries, helping them prepare to respond to Ebola if they start to see cases.
So far there have been more than 3,080 people infected in this outbreak; at least 2,070 of them have died.