Yesterday both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) evacuated staff fighting the Ebola outbreak in Beni in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) amid growing political unrest.
"Ebola responders in Beni DRC are on lockdown amidst gunfire, riots & civil strife, but still trying to protect people at risk of contracting the virus," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, tweeted yesterday. "Teams are arranging contact follow-up by phone and remotely guiding community health workers in places we can't reach."
Outbreak response activity in and around Beni and Oicha has been halted for 7 days after conflicts between the DRC's military and the Allied Democratic Forces, a terrorist militia, resulted in several civilian deaths throughout the region. Today Reuters reported that protesters, angry at the continued violence, set fire to the mayor's office in Beni yesterday and clashed with police. At least two civilians were killed.
Last week, Mike Ryan, MD, the WHO's executive director of health emergencies, issued a stark warning that the violence was the last barrier to ending the 15-month-long Ebola outbreak, the world's second largest.
"We just want to express how alarmed we are that a lack of access and security is now preventing us from ending the outbreak," Ryan said in a press conference. "At this stage of the outbreak, one case matters, one case can reignite the outbreak, and means the virus can get ahead of us again."
Last week, Ryan said a case in Oicha had produced several case contacts who were lost to follow-up.
One more case recorded today
According to the WHO's Twitter feed, response teams in Beni and Oicha were unable to vaccinate anyone in those areas yesterday, and only 25% of people at risk were checked by healthcare teams. There are active chains of transmission in both Beni and Oicha.
Today the WHO recorded 1 more Ebola case, raising the outbreak total to 3,304, including 2,198 deaths. A total of 392 suspected cases are still under investigation.
In an update yesterday, the DRC's Ebola technical committee (CMRE) said the two cases reported yesterday were in Beni and Oicha.
Tedros Twitter feed
Nov 26 Reuters story
WHO Twitter feed
Nov 22 CIDRAP News Story "WHO official highlights Ebola security challenges: 'We are so close'"
WHO Ebola dashboard
Nov 25 CMRE update