The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has continued to worsen with new fears the disease could spread to Goma, a major town of around one million people and “major transportation hub” that connects the DRC to Rwanda, according to Peter Salama, head of the Health Emergencies Program at the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Currently, the virus has spread to the town of Kayina, located halfway between Goma and Butembo – another city considered a current outbreak “hotspot”. The spread of the virus into more heavily populated thoroughfare cities has prompted fears the virus could spread to neighbouring countries, Rwanda, Uganda, and South Sudan. According to Salama, as of January 17, there have been 680 confirmed cases of Ebola, including 414 deaths, making it the second largest Ebola outbreak in history. According to The Guardian, “the number of Ebola cases recorded each day […] is expected to more than double.”
Containing the disease is hindered as there is no known cure, so health workers can only identify cases and then quarantine the individuals while treating their symptoms. However, in a world first, an “effective experimental vaccine” (Vox Media) has been used to vaccinate more than 61,000 people since the outbreak began in August 2018.
Unfortunately, armed conflict, concentrated in the same eastern regions as the Ebola outbreak has slowed efforts by health officials to carry out awareness campaigns; conduct preventative work in communities; treat people infected; and identify, vaccinate, and follow up with people who could have encountered the virus.
The ongoing conflict and fighting between rebel groups and militias have also targeted public health clinics, NGO health facilities, and health officials’ offices. In the city Beni, 30 health facilities, including treatment centres of Doctors Without Borders were targeted by violent anti-government protesters. Two health centres operated by the NGO Mercy Corps were also burnt down, setting back work in those areas. In DRC communities, distrust of the government has bled into distrust of health officials and the WHO, further destabilising health and relief work.
The DRC has been mired in armed conflict for many years, the most recent being started by the Second Congo War. Following the war, government corruption, political instability, and the continual pushing back of national elections by President Kabila as he attempted to hold onto power have all incited violence. This conflict has resulted in the internal displacement of almost 4.5 million people and has made controlling and eventually eradicating the Ebola outbreak more difficult. The violence has increased recently after elections were finally held, the results of which suggest election fraud. Several NGOs named the conflict in the DRC the world’s most neglected crisis in 2018, and unless this changes, the country’s people will continue to pay the price.
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