A mob killed an Ebola health worker and looted a clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, underscoring a breakdown in public trust that is hampering efforts to contain the deadly virus.
Attacks on treatment centres by armed groups and mistrust among residents who view the disease as a conspiracy have become major impediments to containing the DRC’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak.
The ministry said that on Saturday of last week, residents of the village of Vusahiro, in the Mabalako district, “rose up and attacked the local Ebola response team, made up of village residents who were trained to carry out certain response activities”. A hygienist from the infection prevention and control team died of his injuries when he was transferred to hospital, it said.
The report says responders, healthcare workers, and community members are increasingly subjected to threats from armed groups in hot-spots such as Katwa and Butembo, complicating efforts to contain Ebola.
UN officials say that stopping targeted attacks on health workers requires untangling deep-rooted political problems in eastern Congo. Dialogue has led to a recent reduction in large-scale attacks on health workers, World Health Organisation (WHO) emergencies chief Mike Ryan is quoted in the report as saying.
Still, an uphill battle remains. Between January and early May, there were 42 attacks on health facilities, with 85 workers either injured or killed, according to WHO figures.
Health workers have been attacked six times in the last eight days, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the closing session of the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. “These attacks demonstrate that the ongoing Ebola outbreak is more than a health crisis,” he said. “Ending it takes a coordinated and strengthened effort across the UN system…with strong leadership from the government.”
The spread of the outbreak appears to be accelerating with more than 2,000 cases recorded, two-thirds of them fatal, according to government figures, and the WHO. Aljazeera quotes experts as saying that the number of confirmed cases reached the milestone three times as quickly as it took to reach 1,000.
Eastern DRC is now in the midst of the second-worst outbreak of the disease in history. Attacks by rebel groups have complicated health workers’ efforts to contain it. In Beni, 16 people were killed in clashes with suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, 13 of them civilians, an official said.
The report says militia attacks have hindered treatment and complicated the UN’s response to the crisis. Local mistrust of health workers has also contributed to an acceleration of the spread of Ebola. “Without access to communities, we can’t vaccinate those at risk,” Tedros Adhanom from the WHO wrote on Twitter. “But we are determined that we can and will end this outbreak,” he added.
The report says the outbreak reached 1,000 cases in March, more than seven months after it was first detected in August last year. It took less than three more months to reach 2,000, according to the DRC’s Health Ministry. More than 1,300 people have died.
Responders face twin obstacles: resistance from communities who believe that Ebola is a conspiracy made up by aid agencies and the government, and from armed groups seeking to stoke instability for their own gain.
“The current response to tackle Ebola isn’t working,” Corinne N’Daw, Oxfam‘s country director in Congo is quoted in the report as saying. “No matter how effective treatment is, if people don’t trust or understand it, they will not use it.”
The 2,000 figure is a “sad and frustrating milestone … the insecurity is holding us back,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic. “Every time there is an incident … we are not able to provide services and go into communities. We are not able to vaccinate, not able to treat those who are ill, we are not able to follow up on those who may have been exposed to the virus,” Jasarevic said.