Protests disrupt response operations in two Ebola hot spots

Demonstrations in the wake of an announcement that general election voting will be delayed in certain Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) cities included vandalism at some of Beni's Ebola facilities that sent some patients awaiting test results fleeing into the community.

In its daily update today, the DRC health ministry said protests in Beni and Butembo severely disrupted the Ebola response, hampering vaccination, safe burials, and lab functions in Beni, and the usual volume of follow-up on health alerts.

Vandals damage facilities in Beni

According to a CNN report today, police fired tear gas to break up protestors who blocked roads and burned tires in Beni, a day following an announcement from the country's election commission that voting in the long-delayed general election will be pushed from Dec 30 to March in three cities, including Beni and Butembo in North Kivu's outbreak area.

On Twitter today the health ministry said demonstrators vandalized facilities inside the transit center in Beni where 24 patients with suspected infections were under evaluation. It said the damaged unit is separate from the Ebola treatment center (ECT) where patients with confirmed illnesses are treated.

The ministry said it is still evaluating the extent of damage at the transit center and that demonstrators also stole chairs and tables from the location. In addition, demonstrators partially burned tents housing safe burial teams.

Of the 24 patients at the transit center, 3 were in serious condition and have been transferred to the ETC to wait for their test results. Of the other 21, 17 had already tested negative on their first tests and were waiting to take their second test and 4 were waiting for the results of the first test.

The ministry said medical teams are in contact the families of patients who fled the transit center and that a temporary structure will be built to take care of them and to isolate newly suspected case-patients in Beni.

In its regular daily update, the health ministry said 11 patients returned later in the afternoon and were placed in extra tents at the ETC.

"Although these patients are still traumatized by the events that occurred in the morning, they came back because they understand that a fast and adequate care will increase their chance of survival if they prove to be contaminated by the Ebola virus," the health ministry said.

Six newly confirmed cases

In other outbreak developments, the health ministry today reported six more cases from four locations: Kalunguta (2), Oicha (2), Beni (1), and Komanda (1). The new illnesses lift the overall outbreak total to 591, which includes 543 confirmed cases and 48 classified as probable.

Health officials are still investigating 12 suspected Ebola cases; however, the health ministry noted that protests severely limited surveillance operations and very few alerts could be investigated in Beni and Butembo.

One more death was reported, involving a person from Beni who died in the community. The death puts the number of fatalities at 357.

See also:

Dec 27 CNN story

DRC health ministry Twitter account

Dec 27 DRC statement

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