Gunfire, threats and curfews slow Congo's fight against Ebola

Published: November 29, 2018 13:41:42 | Updated: November 30, 2018 18:52:34

A health worker sprays disinfectant on his colleague after working at an Ebola treatment centre in Beni, Congo. AP Photo

When medics tried to reach Ebola patients in a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo during a recent surge in violence, they were blocked by men wielding machetes and axes.

Worried about being kidnapped, they turned back, the latest in a series of setbacks in their attempts to contain the central African country’s worst outbreak of the deadly virus.

As fighting has worsened between rival militia seeking control of land and natural resources, vaccinations and vital treatments have increasingly been delayed resulting in Ebola spread.

The situation has become so dangerous in eastern Congo that humanitarian workers were temporarily evacuated last month from their base in the town of Beni in the North Kivu region close to Rwanda and Uganda.

With the vast country of more than 80 million people also suffering from political instability and facing a refugee crisis, World Health Organization experts see it as one of the most complex public health challenges in recent history, reports Reuters.

“Sometimes in the field we hear bullets flying left to right and we tell ourselves maybe it is going to hit one of us,” said Mimi Kambere, emergency response coordinator for nonprofit group Oxfam, whose team was confronted by the men with machetes.

“Sometimes the insecurity pushes us not to respond to calls, and not to go into certain areas for days,” said Mimi in Goma, the town on the northern shores of Lake Kivu to which she and other health workers were evacuated on Nov 17.

Congo’s tenth outbreak since Ebola was discovered in 1976 has infected 422 people and killed 241 in the last four months. It will become the second largest outbreak of the disease if it surpasses the 425 cases recorded in Uganda in 2000, according to Congo health ministry records.

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