DR Congo Ebola death toll climbs

Kuwait Times - - Health & Science -

GENEVA: Hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers are strug­gling to calm com­mu­nity fears in strife-torn east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, where 125 peo­ple have died of Ebola, and cases of the virus are spread­ing fast. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said Fri­day that 200 cases of the deadly virus have been reg­is­tered in the out­break first de­tected on Au­gust 1, with 165 of them lab­o­ra­tory con­firmed and 35 con­sid­ered prob­a­ble.

The UN agency voiced con­cern over the swelling num­ber of cases in re­cent weeks, es­pe­cially in the town of Beni, near the Ugan­dan bor­der. “Inse­cu­rity that has in­creased in the city is one of the rea­sons why we are see­ing these new cases com­ing up,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasare­vic told re­porters in Geneva. The lat­est out­break-the 10th in DR Congo since Ebola was first de­tected there in 1976 — emerged in the highly-restive north­east­ern re­gion of North Kivu, which is home to a clutch of armed groups.

The au­thor­i­ties in Beni have an­nounced mea­sures to pro­tect health work­ers af­ter a num­ber of in­ci­dents where re­sponse teams were as­saulted. Fears and mis­con­cep­tions about the virus have led to wide­spread mis­trust and re­sis­tance to Ebola re­sponse work­ers, in­clud­ing those who come into com­mu­ni­ties wear­ing haz­mat suits to or­ches­trate buri­als.

UN em­ployee taken ill

A staff mem­ber of the UN mis­sion MONUSCO was among the lat­est vic­tims of the virus, the UN and health min­istry said on Fri­day. The em­ployee was ex­posed in Beni where the health min­istry said it was con­cerned by a “sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of con­firmed cases”. Two Red Cross vol­un­teers were also last week se­ri­ously in­jured when they were at­tacked dur­ing the burial of a sus­pected Ebola vic­tim.

The In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties (IFRC) told AFP Fri­day that it was do­ing ev­ery­thing it could to min­i­mize the risk to its vol­un­teers on the ground. But IFRC Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral El­hadj As Sy stressed that the or­ga­ni­za­tion would never re­sort to us­ing armed es­corts in the ar­eas. “We never use mil­i­tary or armed group pro­tec­tion to do our work... That is not part of our modus operandi,” he told AFP.

He said it was not sur­pris­ing that peo­ple liv­ing in an area af­fected by armed con­flict would be “to­tally over­whelmed with an­other shock like the Ebola cri­sis,” and might have “wrong re­ac­tions”. “It is not un­usual for us to ex­pe­ri­ence these kind of dif­fi­cul­ties,” he told AFP, adding that much of his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s work in­volved en­gag­ing with com­mu­nity mem­bers to build ac­cep­tance of the Ebola re­sponse work.

While IFRC is tak­ing “ad­di­tional safe­guards” to pro­tect its vol­un­teers, Sy stressed that there were no plans to with­draw from prob­lem­atic ar­eas. “It is ex­actly when it is most dif­fi­cult, in the time that it is most risky, that we are needed most,” he said. WHO mean­while did tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend its work try­ing to halt the out­break in Beni last month amid in­creased at­tacks by armed op­po­si­tions groups.

Jasare­vic said Fri­day that the agency had re­sumed its work there, but lamented that con­tin­ued at­tacks and vi­o­lence be­tween govern­ment and rebels, while not di­rectly tar­geted at Ebola re­spon­ders, meant teams were “not able to func­tion fully”. “On a daily ba­sis, we can’t go for a cou­ple of hours to some ar­eas be­cause there is ei­ther a shoot­ing go­ing on, or there is a protest by groups in the city against this vi­o­lence,” he said.

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