Ebola Epidemic in DRC Out of Control as Death Toll Rises - MSF

Grant Boone
March 9, 2019

Seven months into the outbreak, 'the Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control, ' Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in a statement. They hear advice that they should wash their hands but nothing about the lack of soap and water.

Health workers battling Ebola in eastern Congo are facing "a climate of deepening community mistrust" almost seven months after the outbreak began, Doctors Without Borders warned Thursday.

Police and armed forces are being used to compel cooperation with Ebola response steps, such as safe burials, contact tracing, and treatment center admission, which MSF says further alienates the community and is counterproductive. "The communities are not the enemy".

A spokesperson for Congo's health ministry said there appeared to be confusion about the security forces' role.

The Interior Ministry has been asked to guarantee security, as it is unacceptable for health officials to be threatened and attacked, or for the threat of violence to stop families burying their loved ones in a dignified and safe manner, she said. It added that community members have demanded overall security improvements across the area and that a return to security is one of MSF's conditions for returning to Butembo and Katwa.

The outbreak has killed at least 569 people and there are 907 confirmed and probable cases, according to the World Health Organization.

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The ongoing Ebola outbreak is the 10th in DRC's history and the second largest ever recorded worldwide.

"Contrary to global agents, local health workers don't have the privilege of being evacuated when security conditions worsen".

"They see their relatives sprayed with chlorine and wrapped in plastic bags, buried without ceremony".

"Some local health staff have told us that they live in fear of being associated with the response", she said, stressing that "the use of coercion adds fuel to this". Furthermore, 43 percent of new patients over the past three weeks had no known connections to previous Ebola cases, making it hard to track the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, as the first epidemic to hit the Congo, health aides are experiencing the violence overtaking the area that remains in conflict and makes response efforts even more complicated.

"Ebola responders are increasingly seen as the enemy", Liu said. A myriad of armed groups operate in eastern Congo, complicating efforts for the teams that go out into the communities to identify suspected cases of the disease.

It also means that untold numbers of people around these patients have been exposed and may have contracted the disease.

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