The World Health Organization warned Friday that it may not be possible to contain Ebola to the two affected provinces in eastern Congo if violent attacks on health teams continue.
The ominous statement comes amid escalating violence nine months after the outbreak began, crippling efforts to identify suspected cases in the community and vaccinate those most at risk. Earlier this week, Mai-Mai militia fighters attacked the town of Butembo at the epicenter of the crisis.
Friday’s update also noted that a burial team had been “violently attacked” after they interred an Ebola victim in the town of Katwa. The corpses of victims are highly contagious, requiring special precautions to ensure the disease is not transmitted at funerals. Nearly five days of Ebola response activities were halted in Butembo and surrounding areas recently because of the insecurity, WHO said.
“The ongoing violent attacks sow fear, perpetuate mistrust, and further compound the multitude of challenges already faced by frontline health care workers,” it said. “Without commitment from all groups to cease these attacks, it is unlikely that this (Ebola) outbreak can remain successfully contained in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.”
The outbreak, which has killed 1,069 people, marks the first time that Ebola has struck inside a conflict zone. Eastern Congo has suffered decades of violence perpetrated by warring rebel groups and militias awash in arms.
The affected area, though, is also close to Congo’s borders with Uganda and Rwanda, and health officials in both countries have been preparing in case someone sick with Ebola should bring the disease across international borders.
WHO and others have previously said that the risk of that happening was low. The difficulties in accessing some of the hardest hit areas in Congo, though, means that health workers are struggling to isolate the sick, and track down and isolate their caregivers and family members.
About half of those dying remained in their homes instead of seeking treatment at Ebola health centers, giving the virus an opportunity to spread to those in physical contact with victims.
Amid the rising number of cases, WHO said Friday that an advisory group was now recommending that those at high risk of contracting Ebola be given a vaccine dose of 0.5mL of vaccine instead of 1mL. The group is proposing that the vaccine be given more widely, including to those living in communities where there have been recent Ebola cases.
In addition to the risks posed by militias there also has been widespread community mistrust in eastern Congo, a byproduct of years of conflict and grievances with the government. WHO said it was aiming to have the majority vaccine teams comprised of local health workers by the end of the month in an effort to reduce tensions. (VOA)
A panel of World Health Organization experts says strategies must be strengthened to combat the worsening Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The WHO’s latest report counted 1,738 cases of Ebola in Congo, including 1,218 deaths.
Congo’s minister of health, Oly Ilungo, likened the Ebola epidemic to a multi-headed dragon. Speaking through an interpreter, he said the epidemic began in one place, Mangina, but keeps popping up elsewhere.
“Our response, therefore, needs to continually adapt itself to the situation,” said Ilungo. “We need to continually adapt and change our strategy bearing in mind lessons learned.”
He said prevention measures, surveillance, the tracing of infected people, timely treatment and safe burial practices must be maintained. At the same time, he said old tools need to be refreshed and improved.
He proposed setting up a data-driven system, which compiles all the information produced in the response effort.
“Increasingly, it manages to carry out analyses that allow us to get ahead of the problem and we can identify the danger areas where there might be a greater risk of the virus spreading and we can get ahead of the problem,” he added.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, finds the increasing number of new Ebola cases extremely worrying and challenging. She warned the risk of the disease spreading beyond Congo’s borders is very high.
She said the DRC’s nine neighboring countries are aware of the dangers and, with the help of the WHO, have taken many steps to prepare for that possibility.
“We have 16 Ebola-treatment centers and units having been established across the nine countries,” she said. “And, in addition over 4,500 health workers have been trained to be able to detect and manage these cases.The countries have continued to engage with communities to raise their awareness in all high-risk areas.”
WHO officials are appealing for intensified international political engagement and financial support to combat Ebola. They warn the further spread of the dangerous disease would have serious social and economic regional implications and would trigger an even greater crisis. (VOA)