Wednesday December 11, 2019

Ebola Epidemic in DRC could Spread to International Borders Due to Insecurity, Underfunding

It is urging the international community to redouble its efforts to contain this deadly virus before it escalates further

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FILE - A medical assistant checks the temperature of people from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the Ebola screening point bordering with DRC in Mpondwe, western Uganda, on Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to urban areas and across international borders because of heightened insecurity and a serious shortage of money. DR Congo Ministry of Health reports 1,739 cases, including 1,147 deaths, which indicates a 66 percent fatality rate.

The Ebola epidemic in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces started 40 weeks ago on August 1. What is particularly frightening about the latest situation report is that 20 percent of overall cases have occurred in just the last three weeks.

The International Red Cross Federation finds this sharp upsurge alarming. It is urging the international community to redouble its efforts to contain this deadly virus before it escalates further.

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An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April, 16, 2019. The World Health Organization is warning it may not be possible to contain Ebola to the two affected provinces in eastern Congo if violent attacks on health teams continue. VOA

The IFRC’s Director of Health and Care, Emanuele Capobianco, says the Ebola response faces a double jeopardy of insecurity and critical underfunding. He says the security situation is complex and will require a range of responses. But he notes the funding situation could be fixed now.

“At the moment, the financial situation for many of the humanitarian organizations is quite dire,” he said. “There is a real need to step up the response. Otherwise, activities will have to be scaled down and the impact on the future of the epidemic will be extremely serious.”

People who get infected with the deadly virus have a very high risk of dying. Studies from the 2014 historic outbreak in West Africa show that between 60 and 80 percent cases were linked to Ebola-infected bodies at traditional burials. Capobianco says Red Cross efforts to provide communities with safe and dignified burials are meeting with increasing success.

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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

“Up to now, there have been up to 5,000 safe and dignified burials conducted and they are conducted for, as I mentioned before, the people who died either in the community or the Ebola treatment centers of Ebola confirmed,” he said. Also, for people who may be just suspected of Ebola. And, that is why the number of 5,000 is so high. That is a critical part of the work that we have done and which, at the moment is threatened by the lack of funding.”

ALSO READ: Ebola may Continue to Affect other Provinces if Attacks Don’t Stop, Warns WHO

Capobianco says the Red Cross has received less than half of the $30 million it needs to carry out its Ebola-control activities across affected parts of DR Congo, as well as preparedness efforts in neighboring Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

He warns Red Cross operations will be forced to close within the next two weeks without additional urgent investment. (VOA)

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Congo: Volatile Security Situation Stymies Efforts to End Ebola

The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

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Patients waiting for prescriptions to be filled by the hospital pharmacy sit underneath a sign warning about the symptoms of Ebola, at Kibogora district hospital, near Lake Kivu and close to the border with Congo, in western Rwanda, Nov. 4, 2019. VOA

The World Health Organization says that dangers posed by armed groups in two eastern Democratic Republic of Congo provinces are impeding progress in the battle to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.  Latest reports put the number of confirmed Ebola cases at 3,287, including 2,193 deaths.

International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. The World Health Organization says the number of Ebola cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

While that is encouraging, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier says “we are not out of the woods yet.”

“The risk of re-introduction of Ebola into former hotspots remains high and is…contingent on the level of access and security in these communities,” Lindmeier siad. “So, the outbreak has been and is occurring in an extremely complex environment, marked by poor infrastructure, political instability, as you heard, community mistrust of national authorities and outsiders and ongoing conflict involving scores of armed…militia groups.”

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International health workers have achieved a lot since the Ebola epidemic in eastern Congo was declared in August 2018. Pixabay

Despite a recent decrease in the number of security incidents, attacks on health care workers and facilities remain unacceptably high.  From January to October, the WHO has documented more than 300 attacks, causing five deaths and 70 injuries of health care workers and patients.

And, last week, a health care worker was killed in his home and his wife critically injured.

The DRC has always been an area of high mobility. The armed conflict in the region has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.   But people move around for other reasons as well. Lindmeier tells VOA among those on the move are infected people who could spread the virus.

“Because they were moving, we cannot be too optimistic about ending this soon,” Lindmeier siad. “As I said in the beginning, the weekly number of cases have stabilized over the past few weeks, but we are not, definitely not out of the woods yet and should not cry victory…before we are at the end of this.”

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The WHO notes Ebola hotspots have shifted from urban areas to more rural, hard-to-reach communities.  It says that, plus the extremely volatile security situation, creates additional challenges in hunting down the virus. (VOA)