Community fears grow as DR Congo Ebola death toll climbs
Humanitarian workers are struggling to calm community fears in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 125 people have died from Ebola, and cases of the virus are spreading quickly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday that 200 cases of the deadly virus have been registered in the current outbreak first detected on August 1, with 165 of them laboratory confirmed and 35 considered probable.
Among the latest individuals to test positive for Ebola is an employee of the United Nations, according to the head of UN peacekeeping mission, Leila Zerrougui. The haemorrhagic fever spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims and typically kills about half of those it infects.
The UN agency voiced concern over the swelling number of cases in recent weeks, especially in the town of Beni, near the Ugandan border.
“Insecurity that has increased in the city is one of the reasons why we are seeing these new cases coming up,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters in Geneva.
The latest outbreak – the 10th in DR Congo since Ebola was first detected there in 1976 – emerged in the restive northeastern region of North Kivu, which is home to a clutch of armed groups.
WHO has warned that the latest outbreak could last for at least three to four months.
The authorities in Beni have announced measures to protect health workers after a number of incidents where response teams were assaulted.
Fears and misconceptions about the virus have led to widespread mistrust and resistance to Ebola response workers, including those who come into communities wearing hazmat suits to orchestrate burials.
Two Red Cross volunteers were seriously injured when they were attacked during the burial of a suspected Ebola victim last week. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Friday that it was doing everything it could to minimise the risk to its volunteers on the ground.
But IFRC Secretary-General Elhadj As Sy stressed that the organisation would never resort to using armed escorts in the areas.
“We never use military or armed group protection to do our work … That is not part of our modus operandi,” he told the AFP news agency.
He said it was not surprising that people living in an area affected by armed conflict would be “totally overwhelmed with another shock like the Ebola crisis,” and might have “wrong reactions”.