DRC Ebola outbreak grows by 10 cases amid more attacks

UN peacekeeping forces
UN peacekeeping forces

UN peacekeeping forces in Beni., UN photo, Sylvain Liechti / Flickr cc

Once again Beni, the epicenter of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) ongoing Ebola outbreak, was the site of rebel violence against both civilians and military members over the weekend as DRC officials confirmed 10 more Ebola cases, including 6 deaths in North Kivu province.

There are now 237 cases, including 153 fatalities, in this outbreak. In addition, 33 suspected cases are under investigation.

Eight of the new cases are in Beni, a city of more than 200,000 people, including five of the fatal cases. And, of the 237 total cases, 202 have been confirmed.

Deaths, abductions in Beni

According to a report from Voice of America (VOA), Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked Congolese army personnel and several neighborhoods in Beni on Saturday and into Sunday. At least a dozen civilians were killed, and 12 children abducted in the Rwenzori neighborhood. On Sunday people took to the streets to protest the growing violence.

"All immunization and awareness activities were suspended this Sunday," DRC officials said in their daily report yesterday. "Community monitoring activities have been slow and have been done by telephone."  

In a separate attack, two medical workers with the Congolese army were shot dead by Mai-Mai militiamen from the Vulindi entry point, located at the entrance of the city of Butembo, the DRC health ministry said in an update on Oct 20.

Oly Ilunga Kalenga, MD, the health minister of the DRC, said in the Oct 20 update, "It is a dark day for all the teams of the response that sometimes put their lives in danger in the service of the Nation. Health workers are not a target for armed groups."

Violence could slow response again

Last month, an attack in Beni suspended outbreak response efforts for almost a week, which enabled several transmission chains to go undetected. The lapse in surveillance caused a second wave of the virus that is still wreaking havoc in Beni and Butembo.

"This latest attack is the 10th major incident of insecurity in or around Beni the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in the past 2 months. A double tragedy for the civilians there as it will be very hard to stop the outbreak if this violence continues," said Peter Salama, MD, the WHO's deputy director-general of emergency response, on Twitter.

Also over the weekend, the DRC health ministry said that 22 young people in Butembo dug up the body of an Ebola patient and opened the body bag to make sure that no organs had been taken from the body, which is a rumor plaguing some neighborhoods in that city.

The ministry said the young people touched highly infectious bodily fluids, likely exposing themselves to Ebola. All 22 people agreed to get vaccinated.

As of yesterday, more than 20,000 people in the DRC had been vaccinated with Merck's unlicensed Ebola vaccine, including 9,823 in Beni and 1,085 in Butembo. 

EU releases more money for outbreak

Today the European Union (EU) announced it was releasing €7.2 million ($8.25 million) more to the DRC to fight the outbreak, bringing the total EU response to €12.83 million ($14.7 million) in 2018.

"Overall EU support includes technical expertise, humanitarian air service, research funding and humanitarian assistance," said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides in a press release.

"We are working closely with the World Health Organisation and the national authorities to fight the disease. We are not letting our guard down and we will continue our support for as long as it takes."

See also:

Oct 22 VOA story

Oct 21 DRC update

Oct 22 DRC update

Peter Salama Twitter account

Oct 22 EU press release

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