Congo-Kinshasa: Spike in Violence in DRC Threatens Progress Made in Ebola Fight - WHO

MSF medical staff in protective gear on a shift in the high-risk zone to check people with suspected cases of Ebola. Bunia, Ituri province, DRC, June 2019.

The World Health Organization warns escalating violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu and Ituri provinces is threatening to reverse major gains made in bringing the region's Ebola epidemic to an end.

The agency reports 3,298 cases of Ebola, including 2195 deaths, resulting in an overall fatality rate of 67%.

Health officials are pleased with the progress that has been made in tackling the Ebola outbreak in recent weeks.  Last week, the World Health Organization recorded only seven cases of this deadly disease, an all-time low.

Unfortunately, the agency says an uptick in violence between the national army, FARDC, and the rebel Allied Democratic Forces is threatening these gains.

Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies program Mike Ryan says the prevailing lack of access and lack of security is a major obstacle to international efforts to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading.

"We believe we have the resources on the ground from a public health operation's point of view to end the Ebola outbreak.  The difficulty we collectively face at the moment is just when we need that unlimited and unfettered access to communities, we have lost that access in key areas and this is a very dangerous and alarming development in this response," he said.

Ryan said the violence is hampering efforts to reach communities at risk of Ebola.  He says Oicha health zone, in North Kivu, a rebel stronghold, is a very dangerous area to access.  He called this problematic as a very serious chain of transmission has been identified there.

He said only one case of Ebola has been found in Oicha.  However, for security reasons health workers are unable to go to the community to do the forensic tracking and tracing of contacts needed to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading.

"Why are we so concerned about one case?  But at this stage in the outbreak, one case matters.  One case can re-ignite this whole outbreak.  And, right now, one case where we do not have access to that community, means the virus will get ahead of us again," he said.

Ryan said WHO and partners have been in similar situations before, and do not want to be there again.  He said a way must be found to deal with the security issues so health workers can reach at-risk communities and bring the epidemic to an end.

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