Ebola outbreak hits 1,600 cases amid armed clashes

Motorcycle Ebola DR Congo response
Motorcycle Ebola DR Congo response

World Bank, Vincent Tremeau / Flickr cc

With the outbreak hot spot of Butembo still reeling from recent altercations involving a motorcycle taxi, clashes between military forces and armed militia groups flared in parts of the city today as the outbreak total reached the 1,600 mark.

Response curtailed for 4th day

A report from Radio Moto Butemo-Beni said Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) armed forces and police clashed with militia members in Butembo this morning, resulting in 10 deaths, which included some attackers and a police officer. The militia members dispersed, and their motives aren't clear. The city's mayor asked locals to work with the police to find the attackers.

According to a Reuters report, security forces repelled the attackers before they could reach the city's Ebola treatment centers and made several arrests.

Meanwhile, outbreak response activities weren't able to fully resume yesterday because of a rumor spreading on social media that claimed a response vehicle struck and killed a motorcycle taxi driver, raising the threat of public protests, the DRC's health ministry said in its daily update yesterday.

The rumor followed an incident on May 3 in which motorcycle taxi drivers apparently tried to attack a safe and dignified burial team, during which two drivers were shot and killed, sparking a demonstration in Butembo that stopped response activities.

The taxi drivers' association denied the rumor, but did say a driver was in an accident but did not die and continued to work that day. "Since the beginning of May, this is the fourth consecutive day in which the teams have not been able to carry out all the necessary response activities to Butembo," the ministry said.

At a meeting yesterday between the city's urban safety committee and motorcycle taxi drivers, the bikers said they have been infiltrated by outsiders who are responsible for incidents with a goal of destabilizing the city.

Plans are in the works to take a census of all legitimate taxi drivers, and the safety committee warned that if more incidents continue, they will take tougher action against the drivers.

In yet another security incident, the ministry said protesters burned the triage service of Sainte Famille Mukuna hospital center in Katwa health zone.

WHO notes search for contacts in Kampala

In its latest weekly situation report, the World Health Organization (WHO) said events over the past week reflect a deteriorating security situation in Butembo, with threats of attacks persisting against some health facilities and providers in the wake of the latest violence.

Most of the 106 cases reported over the past week have been in Katwa, Mandima, Butembo, Musienene, Beni, and Mabalako health zones.

To address the insecurity in Butembo, the WHO said the United Nations security management system will update the security risk management process by addressing procedural, operational, and security measures.

The number of infected health workers has grown to 95, one more than reported yesterday in the WHO's regional officer report. Deaths in the group are at 34, also reflecting an increase of one.

In its review of contact tracing, the WHO said that on May 5 a 37-year-old man who is a known contact of an Ebola patient traveled from Beni to Kampala, Uganda, through the DRC border town of Kasindi for healthcare. However, information that he was missing didn't reach the Kasindi entry point until the man had crossed the border already.

Investigators are trying to locate and monitor the man's health status.

Officials weigh vaccine applications

On Twitter today DRC health ministry reported 15 more Ebola infections, lifting the outbreak total to 1,600 cases. Officials said they will post the full report tomorrow.

Fourteen more people died from their infections, boosting the fatality count to 1,069.

Yesterday, the health ministry reported 13 new cases from seven locations, including 2 in Lubero, which hadn't reported in a new infection in several weeks.

Regarding the alternative vaccination strategy recommendations the a WHO advisory group announced yesterday—which included adding the Johnson & Johnson Ad26.ZEBOV/MVA-BN vaccine—the health ministry said it hasn't yet approved the use of another vaccine besides Merck's VSV-EBOV. Authorities, however, said they have received applications for the use of three other vaccines and are considering them.

See also:

May 7 DRC update

May 8 Radio Moto Butemo-Beni report

May 8 Reuters story

May 8 WHO Ebola situation update

May 8 DRC health ministry tweet

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