Ebola Outbreak Could Spiral Beyond DRC, WHO Warns

Sunday, May 12, 2019
By Paul Martin

Carol Guensburg
Eddy Isango
May 11, 2019

Armed attacks, misinformation and a growing funding gap continue to impede the response to the Ebola outbreak in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with the World Health Organization warning that the situation could spiral out of control.

Insecurity leaves response teams “unable to perform robust surveillance nor deliver much needed treatment and immunizations,” the WHO reported Friday in its latest update on the outbreak confirmed last August. The health organization warned that “without commitment from all groups to cease these attacks, it is unlikely that this EVD [Ebola virus disease] outbreak can remain successfully contained in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.”

The disease could spill into other parts of the country and across the borders of neighboring Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, the health organization suggested.

This month alone has brought setbacks such as a violent assault on a burial team in the town of Katwa and a gunfight between at least 50 armed militia and security forces in the city of Butembo, WHO reported. Mourners also buried Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, a 41-year-old Cameroonian doctor killed April 19 while working for WHO and meeting with other front-line workers at Butembo University Hospital.

The threats continue.

On Thursday, a VOA correspondent in Butembo spotted copies of a letter – anchored with pebbles on streets and posted on buildings in that city and other North Kivu communities. Handwritten in Swahili and attributed to Mai-Mai fighters, the letter warned police, soldiers and the general public against showing any support for Ebola responders or treatment centers.

Anderson Djumah, whose 10-year-old son is being treated for Ebola at the Butembo general hospital, complained that “the lack of security has just added more suffering.”

“Even Ebola treatment centers are targeted by the assailants. We’re afraid. Ebola is killing so many people. We’re still expecting that the government would be able to protect us,” he said. “… [But] some people who are sick with Ebola are fleeing to other places for their lives and are meanwhile spreading the sickness.”

Complications for care

Violence sends people into hiding and disrupts response operations such as contact tracing, vaccination and safe burials, giving “time and space to the virus to spread within the community and make more victims,” Jessica Ilunga, spokeswoman for the DRC’s health ministry, told VOA.

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