WHO Chief Warns Congo Violence Is Allowing Ebola to Spread

Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By Paul Martin

Rebels repeatedly attack the outbreak epicenter—where the response operation is headquartered

By Helen Branswell
November 19, 2018

The public health workers behind the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are struggling to combat an outbreak of the deadly virus in what is effectively a war zone. Repeated rebel attacks on the city of Beni—the outbreak epicenter and the headquarters of the response operation—have given the virus an advantage over the humans trying to contain it, acknowledges Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director-general.

The most recent attack, on Friday, targeted a military encampment close to a hotel in Beni where some Ebola responders are housed. The hotel was hit by a shell that did not detonate. In the aftermath, a decision was made the next day to evacuate 16 personnel experiencing emotional distress and to insist on heightened security from the United Nations peacekeeping force in the area, known as MONUSCO.

STAT caught up over the weekend with the WHO director-general, who traveled to Beni earlier this month. We asked Tedros, as he is known, about the WHO’s ongoing battle against Ebola in North Kivu province and whether a global health emergency should be declared.

As of Sunday, there have been 366 confirmed and probable Ebola infections reported in this outbreak; 214 of those people died.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Do you have a sense for whether the Ebola response team was a target of the rebels? Or is it just that they are in the line of fire, because of where they are headquartered in Beni, so close to the U.N. peacekeepers?
They were attacking the MONUSCO camp. I checked with MONUSCO Commander General Elias Martins Filho. He said the hotels where our response teams are were not attacked.

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