Ebola workers targeted in 2 new DRC attacks as cases rise

UN soldier with destroyed troop truck
UN soldier with destroyed troop truck

UN, Sylvain Liechti / Flickr cc

Ebola response efforts in both Biakato Mines and Mangina in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been halted in the wake of two violent attacks late last week that left four people dead and six injured. Among the dead are a vaccinator, two response taxi drivers, and a police officer.

The attacks took place the night of Nov 27, when unidentified armed attackers targeted a camp housing Ebola outbreak response staff in Biakato Mines, and others attacked the Ebola coordination office in Mangina.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the recent violence is part of approximately 390 attacks on health facilities that have killed 11 and injured 83 health care workers and patients in the DRC as the country faces the second-largest Ebola outbreak in history.

"There can be no more callous act than to target health professionals working to heal the sick and care for those in need," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD during a speech he made in Goma yesterday. "Every time an attack like this happens, it disrupts efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak and puts the health and wellbeing of local men, women and children at greater risk.

"Such senseless violence must stop."

Attacks lead to increase in cases

On Nov 28, Mike Ryan, MD, WHO executive director of emergency programs, said during a press conference that all WHO staff had been removed from Biakato Mines and relocated.

"Ebola was retreating and now it is likely to resurge. It will be a tragedy to see unnecessary suffering in communities," Ryan said. "There has been an increase in cases."

A total of 189 people lived and worked at the Biakato Mines response camp, Ryan said, and the attack was a deliberate assault on workers.

In the past few weeks, Ryan said the WHO has lost access to key communities in Beni, Oicha, and now Biakato Mines. These were the last strongholds of the virus, he added, the villages and cities where he expected workers would be able to stamp out the disease.  

"At the moment, the interruption of outbreak response has led to a 50% drop in alerts," Ryan said, also noting that surveillance, contact tracing, and vaccination activity all declined, too.

Late last week the WHO said only one third of its response team in Beni remains in that city, which saw violence between local military and terrorist organizations in mid-November. In nearby Oicha, attacks have resulted in only 15% of contacts under surveillance as of Nov 26.

Over the past 5 days, the DRC has reported 9 more Ebola cases, including 3 today, per the WHO's online Ebola dashboard. The outbreak total now stands at 3,313 cases, including 2,202 deaths.

See also:

Dec 1 WHO statement

Nov 28 WHO update

WHO Ebola dashboard

This week's top reads