Violent Armed Gangs Hinder Efforts to Eradicate Ebola in Congo

A soldier from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) patrols inside an Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Butembo, the epicentre of DR Congo's latest Ebola outbreak, after it was attacked on March 9, 2019. - Mai-Mai rebels attacked the ETC in the early hours of …
JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that the danger and instability posed by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are stifling efforts to eradicate the Ebola virus across the country.

Voice of America (VOA) reported on Thursday that fighting between armed militias in two eastern provinces of the DRC has impeded progress, with a total of 3,287 documented cases of Ebola. Of that number, at least 2,193 have succumbed to the virus. It is the second-deadliest outbreak on record, the first being the West Africa outbreak from 2014 to 2016.

Health workers in the country have made positive strides towards eradicating the virus, including the introduction of a new vaccine, with the WHO indicating that the number of cases has decreased and stabilized over the past few weeks.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told VOA that lots of work to be done to eradicate it entirely. “The risk of re-introduction of Ebola into former hotspots remains high and is contingent on the level of access and security in these communities,” he said.

“So, the outbreak has been and is occurring in an extremely complex environment, marked by poor infrastructure, political instability, as you heard, community mistrust of national authorities and outsiders and ongoing conflict involving scores of armed militia groups,” he continued.

Lindmeier also explained that the conflict between armed militias has led to many people being forced to flee their homes, thus increasing the chances that infected with the virus will spread it to others.

“Because they were moving, we cannot be too optimistic about ending this soon,” said Lindmeier. “As I said in the beginning, the weekly number of cases have stabilized over the past few weeks, but we are not, definitely not out of the woods yet and should not cry victory … before we are at the end of this.”

Transmission of the Ebola virus is normally a result of contact between individuals. Symptoms of the virus typically begin with sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, and a sore throat, before later progressing to vomiting, diarrhea and both internal and external bleeding. Deaths are usually a result of dehydration and organ failure.

Another major concern of authorities is the continued risk faced by health workers. Between January and October this year, the WHO recorded over 300 attacks against health workers, causing five injuries and 70 injuries.

The recent outbreak of violence and intimidation against Ebola campaigners and healthcare workers largely comes from fears felt across rural Africa, particularly among poorer communities who feel a growing sense of distrust towards Western medical practices.

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