July 17 (UPI) -- As the world grapples with a deepening coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization has called for international support in its fight against a growing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We must not let COVID-19 distract us from tackling other pressing threats," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, said Thursday in a statement.
The WHO said that since the outbreak was declared on June 1, there have been 56 cases of the deadly disease in the northwestern province of Equateur, 53 of which have been confirmed.
The number of cases surpasses the 54 recorded during the province's previous Ebola outbreak from May to July of 2018, Moeti said.
"The current Ebola outbreak is running into headwinds because cases are scattered across remote areas in dense rain forests," the doctor said. "This makes for a costly response as ensuring that responders and supplies reach affected populations is extremely challenging."
The WHO said it has mobilized some $1.75 million to fight the outbreak in Equateur but it will run out in a few weeks, urging the international community for more funds so it can scale up its response to ensure affected communities received needed services, including health education, vaccination testing, contact tracing and treatment.
The call for support comes less than a month after an earlier Ebola outbreak in the DRC was declared over some two years after it began.
Between Aug. 1, 2018, when the 10th Ebola outbreak began and last month, when it was declared over, 2,280 people died to the virus, making it the world's second-worst Ebola outbreak.
The WHO said its current response is building from lessons learned from previous Ebola outbreaks that underscore the importance of working with local communities.
More than 12,000 people have been vaccinated in the past six weeks it said, adding that 90% of the vaccinators in the ongoing outbreak are from local communities.