The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faced another setback in its fight to contain an Ebola outbreak last Friday night when a MONUSCO base in the Boikene district of Beni was attacked by an armed group.
Over the weekend and through today, the DRC recorded 21 more cases of Ebola, for a total of 373 cases, including 216 deaths. Seventy-two cases are suspected and under investigation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) evacuated 16 people after their residence was hit by a shell that did not explode, and Ebola surveillance and vaccination efforts were stalled in Beni for at least 24 hours.
According to the DRC's health ministry, the clash lasted several hours and took place a few meters away from the Ebola emergency operations center and hotels housing several response teams.
"Vaccination was suspended and the operations centre was closed, but teams still went out into the communities to follow up on some alerts of potential cases, to meet contacts and ensure they are still well, and to bring sick people to treatment centres. The treatment centers, which are run by partners, remained operational," the WHO said.
Beni has been the epicenter of the current Ebola outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which has been going on for more than 4 months and has become the DRC's largest Ebola outbreak to date. The outbreak area encompasses the DRC's most unsettled region, home to more than 1 million refugees and dozens of militia.
DRC reassures about commitment
The DRC's ministry of health reassured people over the weekend and today that despite the evacuation, the efforts to end the outbreak in North Kivu are still ongoing.
"The field activities in Beni did not take place normally at the beginning of the day on Saturday 17 November. After assessing the security situation, all field activities, except vaccination, were able to resume idling on Saturday afternoon," the DRC's health ministry said yesterday.
Today, Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, MD, the DRC's coordinator of response efforts, gave a press briefing in Beni. He said there are still more than 900 health workers in the city, including 191 WHO workers and consultants.
The DRC said full vaccination had resumed yesterday, and as of today, a total of 32,108 people had been vaccinated with Merck's unlicensed Ebola vaccine, including 15,962 in Beni.
Outbreak grows in Kalunguta
Bathe also addressed the recent cases in Kalunguta, a health district in one of the DRC's security red zones. He explained that Ebola was spread to the area by a confirmed case-patient from Beni who escaped surveillance in that city. Bathe said the community has been accommodating to health workers, and more than 800 people have been vaccinated.
At least 2 of the 21 new cases recorded this weekend were in Kalunguta.
In updates over the weekend, the DRC's health ministry efforts to clean up the Ebola case database were continuing.
Nov 17 DRC update
Nov 18 DRC update
Nov 19 DRC update
Nov 17 WHO statement