Wednesday January 29, 2020

Congo’s Ebola Outbreak Spreading at its Fastest Rate, Says WHO

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever

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ebola, congo
FILE PHOTO: Health workers carry a newly admitted confirmed Ebola patient into a treatment center in Butembo in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, March 28, 2019. VOA

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola outbreak is spreading at its fastest rate yet, eight months after it was first detected, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

Each of the past two weeks has registered a record number of new cases, marking a sharp setback for efforts to respond to the second biggest outbreak ever, as militia violence and community resistance have impeded access to affected areas.

Less than three weeks ago, the WHO said the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever was largely contained and could be stopped by September, noting that weekly case numbers had halved from earlier in the year to about 25.

But the number of cases hit a record 57 the following week, and then jumped to 72 last week, said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier. Previous spikes of around 50 cases per week were documented in late January and mid-November.

ebola, congo
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid group, cautioned that case numbers were on the rise. Pixabay

Deaths occur outside treatment centers

More alarmingly, about three-quarters of Ebola deaths last week occurred outside of treatment centers, according to Congo health ministry data, meaning there is a much greater chance they transmitted the virus to those around them.

“People are becoming infected without access to response measures,” Lindmeier told Reuters.

The current outbreak is believed to have killed 676 people and infected 406 others. Another 331 patients have recovered.

In the past two months, five Ebola centers have been attacked, some by armed militiamen. That led French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to suspend its activities in two of the most affected areas.

Another challenge has been a mistrust of first responders. A survey conducted last September by medical journal The Lancet found that a quarter of people sampled in two Ebola hotspots did not believe the disease was real.

ebola, congo
FILE – Health workers are seen inside the “red zone” of an Ebola treatment center, which was attacked in the early hours of March 9, 2019, in Butembo. VOA

New outreach program

Lindmeier said new approaches to community outreach were showing signs of progress and that some previously hostile local residents had recently agreed to grant health workers access.

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One treatment center that closed in February after being torched by unknown assailants reopened last week.

More than 11,000 people died in West Africa’s 2013-16 Ebola outbreak. Since then, health authorities have worked to speed up their responses and deployed an experimental vaccine and treatments, both of which have been considered effective. (VOA)

Next Story

Africa Aims at Battling Extremism, Ebola and Hunger in 2020

Africa Starts 2020 Battling Extremism, Ebola and Hunger

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Africa Health
A health worker fills a syringe with Ebola vaccine before injecting it to a patient, in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. VOA

A tragic airline crash with far-reaching consequences, cataclysmic cyclones that may be a harbinger of the future, the death of an African icon and a new leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize. These African stories captured the world’s attention in 2019, and look to influence events on the continent in 2020.

The battles against extremist violence and Ebola will also continue to be major campaigns in Africa in the coming year.

The crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa in March killed all 157 passengers and crew. The disaster, which claimed the lives of a large number of U.N. officials, involved a Boeing 737 Max jet and came just five months after a similar crash in Indonesia of the same aircraft.

Africa airline
Foreign investigators examine wreckage at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, south of Addis Ababa, Africa. VOA

Boeing was inundated with questions about the safety of its plane. After initially claiming that it was safe, the company was forced to ground the plane after many countries refused to let it fly in their airspace. In December Boeing announced that it would suspend production of the jet.

The air crash was a trial for Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who later in the year won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for achieving peace with neighboring Eritrea. But Abiy is challenged by often violent ethnic rivalries in his country and elections set for May 2020 will be crucial, analysts say.

Cyclone Idai ripped into Mozambique in March, killing more than 1,300 people, making it “one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere,” according to the U.N. A month later Cyclone Kenneth roared into northern Mozambique, killing more than 50 people.

This was the first time in recorded history that Mozambique had two major cyclones, prompting some to worry that the country, with a 1,000-mile Indian Ocean coastline, may be prone to more storms as a result of climate change.

Africa extremism
A general view shows the scene of a car bomb explosion at a checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia, Africa. VOA

Across Mozambique more than 2.5 million people remain in urgent need of assistance, according to the U.N. Mozambique also starts 2020 troubled by ongoing attacks on vehicles in the country’s central area and by Islamic extremist attacks in the country’s north.

Extremist violence continues to vex Africa from the east to the west.

2019 began with extremist violence. In Kenya in January, insurgents launched an assault on a luxury hotel and shopping complex in Nairobi that killed at least 14 people.

The year came to an end with extremist attacks across the continent.

A bomb in Somalia killed 78 people, including many university students, in the capital, Mogadishu, on Dec. 28, the deadliest attack in years. Somalia’s al-Shabab, allied to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

In Nigeria extremists linked to the Islamic State group circulated a video showing 11 hostages, most of them Christians, being executed. They were thought to be killed on Christmas Day. The extremist group, which calls itself the Islamic State West Africa Province, said the captives were executed as revenge for the killing of Islamic State group leaders in Iraq and Syria in October.

In northern Burkina Faso, jihadists killed 35 civilians, most of them women, and ensuing clashes with security forces left 80 jihadists dead, the West African nation’s president announced Dec. 24. That attack came weeks after an attack on a convoy carrying employees of a Canadian mining company in which at least 37 civilians were killed in the country’s east. Both attacks were by groups numbering close to 100, indicating the presence of relatively large, well-organized extremist groups.

“The startling deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso has been a major development in 2019,” said Alex Vines, director of the Africa program at Chatham House, the British think tank. “There’s been a dramatic spike in extremist attacks.”

Frequent attacks in Burkina Faso’s north and east already have displaced more than a half million people, according to the United Nations. While Burkina Faso’s military has received training from both former colonizer France and the United States, it starts 2020 with little progress in halting the surge in extremist violence.

President of South Africa
President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a state funeral of Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, at the national sports stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe. VOA

Congo starts the year waging a different kind of war, a campaign against Ebola, which has killed more than 2,200 people since August 2018. The medical effort to control the second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has been severely hampered since the start by the presence of several armed groups in eastern Congo, the epicenter of the epidemic. It was hoped that new vaccines would help control the outbreak more quickly, but the violence has hampered those efforts.

Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi, elected in 2019, said in November that he was optimistic that the Ebola outbreak would be ended before 2020, but the epidemic continues throughout eastern Congo.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, re-elected in 2019, said in a New Year’s statement that the need to boost his country’s ailing economy and create jobs is his biggest challenge for 2020. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, also re-elected, has said that his government has controlled the rebellion by Boko Haram extremists, but violence continues to plague the country’s northeast.

Zimbabwe’s longtime ruler, Robert Mugabe, died at age 95 in September. Mugabe, the guerrilla leader who fought to end white-minority rule in Rhodesia and then ruled independent Zimbabwe from 1980 until 2017, left a mixed legacy of liberation, repression and economic ruin.

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Zimbabwe begins the new year with severe economic problems including inflation estimated at more than 300% and widespread hunger. In an emergency appeal at the end of December, the U.N.’s World Food Program said that even though the southern African country had suffered a drought, Zimbabwe’s food shortages are a ‘man-made” disaster, laying the blame squarely with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

The once-prosperous country staggered to 2020 with power shortages lasting up to 19 hours per day and large parts of the capital, Harare, a city of some 2 million people, going without running water. (VOA)