Friday, 14 December, 2018

World Health Organization suspends work on Ebola in Congo amid militant attacks

Ebola Eastern Congo Ebola still active in DRC
Ben Pena | 27 September, 2018, 23:43

"We are now extremely concerned that several factors may be coming together over the next weeks and months to create a flawless storm", WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama told a news conference in Geneva.

"We call on the global community to continue to fund the response", he said, "both in North Kivu, but also, and this is increasingly important, in the neighbouring provinces of the Kivus and Ituri, and in surrounding countries". "A ideal storm of active conflict, limiting our ability to access civilians, distress by segments of the community, already traumatized by decades of conflict and of murder".

At least 14 civilians and four soldiers were killed on Saturday in a six-hour attack by rebels on the town of Beni in eastern Congo, the army and local officials said, warning the unrest could hamper efforts to quash an Ebola epidemic in the area.

Local sources say the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Islamist militant group active in the area since the 1990s, was behind the attack, but this has not been confirmed.

The city has declared a "ville morte", a period of mourning until at least Friday, obliging World Health Organization to suspend its operations.

"We also see a very concerning trend".

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The latest Ebola outbreak, which causes haemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, is believed to have killed 99 people since July and infected another 48.

In addition to the security risk, Salama said a minority of the local population is deeply mistrustful of government and United Nations health workers. "An added complication here is that some of these fighters may have been exposed to Ebola, and yet they'll be even more hard to track down than ordinary civilians".

The latest violence, which sparked local anger, comes just three months before the Democratic Republic of Congo holds a fractious election to choose a successor to Joseph Kabila, the country's deeply-contested president.

This progress risks being undone by the uptick in violence in the Kivus region, which is home to more than 100 armed groups, he said, before noting that neighbouring countries now also face an increased risk of the disease spreading.

But the main weapon is the time-honoured technique of isolating patients and tracing people who have been in contact with them.

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