Ebola could spread from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda and Rwanda. According to Reuters, the rate of Ebola cases has more than doubled since September after rebel violence in northeastern DRC caused response efforts to be briefly suspended, health officials said. The disease is believed to have infected 194 people and killed 122 since the outbreak started in eastern Congo in July, according to the health ministry. The Ebola outbreak in DRC is expected to last another three to four months and could spread at any time to Uganda and Rwanda, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also added on Thursday that the neighboring countries are well prepared but have not yet approved the use of vaccines.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said it was “alarmed” that there were 33 new cases between October 1st and Tuesday, versus 41 cases during all of September. According to Al-Jazeera, most of the new cases have been in Beni, where experts had to suspend Ebola containment efforts for days after a deadly rebel attack killed at least 18 people. In addition, according to the United Nations, four civilians were killed in another attack near Beni on Tuesday. Thus the IRC again suspended programs on Wednesday, resuming on Thursday afternoon but only within Beni city limits, a spokeswoman said.
According to Al-Jazeera, with multiple armed groups active in the region, health officials have said they are effectively operating in a war zone. “The current spike in Ebola cases and deaths is extremely worrying,” said Michelle Gayer, IRC’s senior director of emergency health, on Thursday. “It’s likely that the forced suspension in programming due to insecurity and community resistance in and around Beni are major factors in this,” she said. Euloge Ishimwe, Red Cross spokesman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “we are concerned that (violence) is contributing to the rise in Ebola cases in Beni and that this could be the tipping point for an accelerated spread of the disease.”
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization noted that all of the health workers who have caught Ebola in this epidemic have been infected outside of hospitals or clinics, thus meaning that the virus is spreading in the community. “This is a sign not only that the outbreak is not under control, but that without full engagement from the community things could get a lot worse,” said Michelle Gayer, the IRC’s senior director of emergency health.
It is crucial that the community works together with the health workers in order to stop the fast-spreading disease from effecting more people. As long as the violence in DRC persists, it will remain difficult for the health workers to operate efficiently. There must be some action taken within the DRC to stop the rebel attacks. In addition to a push from the outside community to in order to help contain the disease before it spreads into Rwanda and Uganda, hurting even more people. An Ebola outbreak in western Africa between 2014 and 2016 claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people, mainly in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to World Health Organization data. If the violence is not contained in DRC and health workers remain unable to treat infected people due to insecurity and fear, then there is no guarantee that the current outbreak does not escalate into another Ebola epidemic in Africa.
This is not an issue that will go away over night or one where leaders of other countries should ignore. Many people have been infected already and lost their lives and many more are at risk. Therefore, it is essential that the health workers be able to treat as many cases as possible and contain the disease before infecting more people in the DRC and spreading anymore into neighboring countries. We are all at risk here and if countries do not work together to contain the Ebola virus, then it is possible to see an accelerated spread of the disease through the rest of the African continent and beyond.
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