DRC health minister resigns after government takes Ebola reins

July 25, 2019

In a development likely to further roil the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) already difficult battle against Ebola, the country's health minister resigned following the president's decision to put outbreak leadership in the hands of a government expert committee.

In a statement released on Twitter on Jul 20, the DRC president's cabinet director said the Ebola outbreak response is now under the direct supervision of the president and a multisectoral expert committee led by Jean Jacques Muyembe Tamfum, PhD, a virologist who leads the DRC's National Institute for Biomedical Research.

In a resignation statement posted on his Twitter account, translated from French, Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, criticized the president's officer for making the decision to transfer outbreak oversight to the technical committee while he was in Goma on Jul 18 overseeing the Ebola response.

Kalenga said committee members have interfered with the response in recent months, and he appeared to question the need for a government multisector response. He said daily updates from the health ministry have provided the world with transparency about the DRC's management of the outbreak, which Kalenga says have staved off harmful economic impacts from the event.

In recent weeks, the DRC has faced pressure from all sides to turn the Ebola outbreak into a humanitarian crisis, Kalenga said. "It is a public health crisis that occurs in an environment characterized by problems of security, development, and deficiencies of the health system." Pressure to view the outbreak as a humanitarian crisis seems to invite the establishment of a parallel management system, which he said never strengthens existing health systems.

In his parting statement, Kalenga told the government that it is illusory to believe that a new vaccine, one that requires two doses administered 56 days apart, will have a decisive impact on controlling the outbreak.

Regarding his role as health minister, Kalenga said that, as with any battle, lines of command must be clearly identified. "There cannot be more than one decision-making center at the risk of creating confusions and cacophony that are detrimental to the response," he said. Anticipating confusion that will result from putting the outbreak response in the hands of the committee, he added, "I hereby present you my resignation as Minister of Health."

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