Ebola is real, Congo president tells skeptical population

FILE PHOTO: A health worker wearing Ebola protection gear, walks before entering the Biosecure Emergency Care Unit (CUBE) at the ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action) Ebola treatment centre in Beni, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 30, 2019. Picture taken March 30, 2019.REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi on Tuesday implored people in areas hit by the nation’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak to accept the disease is real and trust health workers.

Mistrust of first responders and widespread misinformation propagated by some community leaders has led many in affected areas of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to refuse vaccinations. Instead, they turn to traditional healers, whose clinics have contributed to the hemorrhagic fever’s spread.

“It is not an imaginary disease,” Tshisekedi said after arriving in the city of Beni on his first tour of eastern Congo since being inaugurated in January.

“If we follow the instructions, in two or three months Ebola will be finished,” he optimistically told a crowd after having his temperature taken and washing his hands, as required of all incoming passengers to Beni airport.

Congo has suffered 10 outbreaks of Ebola, which causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding, since the virus was discovered there in 1976. The current one has seen 1,264 confirmed and probable cases and 814 deaths since it was declared last August.

It is surpassed only by the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa, in which more than 28,000 cases were reported and more than 11,000 people died.

Following a series of attacks on treatment centers by unidentified assailants in February and March, the current outbreak is now spreading at its fastest rate yet.

More than 100 cases were confirmed last week.

Tshisekedi, who won a disputed election last December to succeed Joseph Kabila, also called on Tuesday for the disarmament of dozens of militia that operate in the east and whose presence has complicated the Ebola response.

“The time of armed groups is over,” he said. “The new government is reaching out to these children of the country to surrender arms through disarmament programmes.”

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba and Stanis Bujakera; Writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Aaron Ross and Andrew Cawthorne)

Congo Ebola center set on fire after armed attack

Burned structures are seen after attackers set fire to an Ebola treatment center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the east Congolese town of Katwa, Democratic Republic of Congo February 25, 2019. Picture taken February 25, 2019. Laurie Bonnaud/MSF/Handout via REUTERS

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Armed assailants attacked an Ebola treatment center in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday, setting off a fire and becoming embroiled in an extended gun battle with security forces, health officials said.

The identity and motive of the assailants were unclear. Aid workers have faced mistrust in some areas as they work to contain an Ebola outbreak.

Burned structures are seen after attackers set fire to an Ebola treatment center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the east Congolese town of Katwa, Democratic Republic of Congo February 25, 2019. Picture taken February 25, 2019. Laurie Bonnaud/MSF/Handout via REUTERS

Burned structures are seen after attackers set fire to an Ebola treatment center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the east Congolese town of Katwa, Democratic Republic of Congo February 25, 2019. Picture taken February 25, 2019. Laurie Bonnaud/MSF/Handout via REUTERS

Dozens of armed militia also regularly attack civilians and security forces in eastern Congo’s borderlands with Uganda and Rwanda, which has significantly hampered the response to the disease.

The health ministry said in a statement that 38 suspected Ebola patients and 12 confirmed cases were in the center at the time of the attack. Four of the patients with confirmed cases fled and are being looked for, it said.

None of the patients who have been accounted for were injured, nor were any staff members, the ministry added.

French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which runs the center together with the ministry, condemned the “deplorable attack” and said its efforts were focused on the immediate safety of patients and staff.

The attack in the city of Butembo was the second in Congo’s Ebola-hit east this week. On Sunday unidentified assailants set fire to a treatment center in the nearby town of Katwa, killing a nurse.

The current Ebola outbreak, first declared last August, is the second deadliest of the hemorrhagic fever since it was discovered in Congo in 1976. It is believed to have killed at least 553 people so far and infected over 300 more.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Gareth Jones and Rosalba O’Brien)

Current Ebola outbreak is worst in Congo’s history: ministry

FILE PHOTO - Workers fix an Ebola awareness poster in Tchomia, Democratic Republic of Congo, to raise awareness about Ebola in the local community, on October 9, 2018. Picture taken October 9, 2018. WHO/Aboulaye Cisse/Handout via REUTERS

KINSHASA (Reuters) – The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most severe in the country’s history with 319 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry said late on Friday.

The hemorrhagic fever is believed to have killed 198 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where attacks by armed groups and community resistance to health officials have complicated the response.

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese health worker prepares to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese health worker prepares to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

Congo has suffered 10 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered near the eponymous Ebola River in 1976.

“The current epidemic is the worst in the history of DRC,” Jessica Ilunga, a spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters.

With over 300 cases the epidemic also ranks as third worst in the history of the continent, following the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa where over 28,000 cases were confirmed and an outbreak in Uganda in 2000 involving 425 cases.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that security represented the primary challenge in the current epidemic, followed by community mistrust.

“When there is an attack, the operation actually freezes. So we hold the operation. And when the operation stops, the virus gets advantage and it affects us in two ways,” he told reporters in Kinshasa.

“And one is catching up on the backload. Because when operations are stopped, there is always a backload of vaccinations or contact tracing. And the other, the second problem, is that more cases are generated because we can’t vaccinate them,” he said.

The confirmation of new cases has accelerated in the last month and an emergency committee of World Health Organization experts said in October that the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless the response was stepped up.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Hugh Lawson)