Ebola showed up in a war zone. It’s not going well.

Friday, October 12, 2018
By Paul Martin

An outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo that started in July shows no sign of stopping.

By Julia Belluz
Oct 12, 2018

Scott Dowell, an infectious disease doctor, has helped respond to more than a dozen Ebola outbreaks in the last two decades. But the one that’s currently ravaging the Democratic Republic of Congo is different from all the others he’s seen: For the first time in history, Ebola is spreading in an active war zone.

Just before his arrival in September, two large attacks in and outside Beni — where Dowell, the deputy director for surveillance and epidemiology at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was working — killed more than 30 people, bringing the total number of civilian deaths in DRC this year to 235.

“The population is going about their daily business,” Dowell said. “But then we’d have these episodes where it really is dangerous. There were a couple of nights we heard shooting and saw people running down the street in front of the place we were staying.”

The Ebola outbreak happening amid this havoc was declared on August 1, a week after another Ebola flareup in Western DRC ended. Since then, 200 people have gotten sick with the virus, including 125 deaths — making it one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history.

It’s also proving to be one of the most challenging to control. The virus is spreading in North Kivu and Ituri, provinces in Eastern DRC on the border of Rwanda and Uganda. There, armed opposition groups have been carrying out deadly attacks on civilians, which are forcing people from their homes. More than a million are displaced in the area, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

This sporadic violence and chaos are shaping up to be the global community’s greatest Ebola test since West Africa in 2014. Back then, health groups, especially the World Health Organization, were widely criticized for responding too slowly, and allowing the outbreak to spin out of control.

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