Armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern regions is a barrier in controlling the latest Ebola virus outbreak in the country, the World Health Organization director said Saturday while visiting the response centers in Beni and Mangina.
“I call upon all warring parties to provide secure access to all responders serving affected populations and saving lives,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Ebola is a danger to all.”
Tedros was on hand as the first medical health workers received vaccinations. He toured the treatment facilities before heading to neighboring Uganda, where he discussed the regional Ebola response.
The death toll has risen to 38 in DR Congo, where health officials are working to contain the outbreak in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces shattered by years of conflict and more recently, troubling reports of ethnically driven communal violence.
Most of the fatalities have been in Mabalako. The Congolese health minister, Dr. Oly Ilunga, announced a free clinic will open there to help combat the spread of Ebola.
“In times of epidemic, it is important that the financial barrier does not hinder access to health care,” said Ilunga. “This measure to introduce free health care in the affected areas aims to encourage the population to go to an approved health center as soon as the first symptoms appear, increasing their chances of survival.”
This latest outbreak is traced to a 65-year-old woman living in Mangina who had been hospitalized at the Mangina Reference Health Center (CSR) a few days before being discharged in mid-July. She died at home a few days later, the ministry said. Seven family members in contact with her also died.
In addition to WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United Nations mission MONUSCO also are assisting in the field, with NGOs including the Red Cross and Alima sending staff and supplies.
The United Nations and WHO have expressed concern about the unique challenges the region presents. A million residents are displaced in conflict zones, and in some cases workers will require an armed escort to access those in medical danger.
There is also the additional threat that those fleeing violence may head for nearby Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, taking the infection with them, says Dr. Peter Salama, the WHO deputy director-general for emergencies.
“On the scale of difficulty, trying to extinguish a deadly outbreak pathogen in a war zone” is as hard as it gets, he said, warning that the response will be “a very, very complex operation.”
Image: WHO Africa