Congo at­tacks kill sev­eral re­spon­ders

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By AL-HADJI KUDRAMALIR­O and CARA ANNA

BENI, Congo — Rebels killed four Ebola re­sponse work­ers in an overnight am­bush in east­ern Congo, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion said Thurs­day, warn­ing that the at­tack will give the wan­ing out­break new mo­men­tum in what has been called a war zone.

“We are heart­bro­ken that our worst fears have been re­al­ized,” WHO chief Te­dros Ad­hanom Ghe­breye­sus said. It was by far the dead­li­est such at­tack in the se­cond-worst Ebola out­break in his­tory, the United Na­tions health agency said.

The dead in­cluded a mem­ber of a vac­ci­na­tion team, two driv­ers and a po­lice of­fi­cer. Many of the six oth­ers wounded were with Congo’s health min­istry.

Mai-Mai fight­ers at­tacked a camp hous­ing scores of aid work­ers overnight in Bi­akato, lo­cal of­fi­cial Salam­bongo Sele­mani told The Associated Press. Warn­ings had been posted de­mand­ing that the health work­ers leave or face “the worst,” Sele­mani said.

The other at­tack tar­geted an Ebola re­sponse co­or­di­na­tion of­fice in Mang­ina, WHO said. Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces rebels are to blame, Beni ter­ri­tory ad­min­is­tra­tor Do­nat Kasereka Kib­wana said.

WHO’s emer­gen­cies di­rec­tor Dr. Mike Ryan, how­ever, said nei­ther the at­tack­ers’ iden­ti­ties nor their mo­ti­va­tion had been con­firmed but it was “un­mis­tak­ably a di­rected at­tack at the re­sponse.” More than 100 WHO staffers and other aid work­ers were evac­u­ated.

This is not the first time that health work­ers try­ing to con­tain the out­break have been tar­geted. Over­all, health work­ers and in­fra­struc­ture have been at­tacked 386 times with seven peo­ple killed and 77 wounded, Ryan said.

Some have called this out­break more com­pli­cated than any other. Sev­eral rebel groups are ac­tive in the re­gion, and lo­cal of­fi­cials say some be­lieve Ebola is noth­ing but a po­lit­i­cal ploy.

“Imag­ine, a doc­tor leaves home in the U.S. or else­where to come sleep in a tent to help save us from this scourge of Ebola and yet poorly ed­u­cated young peo­ple want to at­tack him. ... It is very de­plorable,” said Fiston Ka­mango, a youth leader in Bi­akato.

The lat­est at­tacks come af­ter days of deadly un­rest in the city of Beni, where res­i­dents out­raged by re­peated rebel at­tacks stormed the lo­cal U.N. peace­keep­ing base, de­mand­ing more pro­tec­tion. WHO evac­u­ated 49 of its staffers there, leav­ing 71 in place.

The United States, Brit

ain, Canada and Switzerlan­d on Thurs­day is­sued a joint state­ment con­demn­ing the “sense­less acts of vi­o­lence” by armed groups and ap­peal­ing for calm while say­ing they un­der­stood the lo­cal frus­tra­tions.

Ebola re­sponse work was put on lock­down in Beni, dis­may­ing health ex­perts who say ev­ery at­tack hurts cru­cial ef­forts to con­tain the deadly virus. Most of the re­cent new cases have been re­ported in the newly tar­geted com­mu­ni­ties of Bi­akato, Mang­ina and Beni.

“The last stronghold­s of the virus were in these ar­eas,” WHO’s Ryan said. He called work­ing con­di­tions in the re­mote ar­eas dif­fi­cult at the best of times.

The num­ber of cases had been drop­ping in the year­long out­break which has killed more than 2,100 peo­ple and was de­clared a rare global health emer­gency ear­lier this year. Sev­eral days this month, zero cases were re­ported. Just seven cases were re­ported in the past week, WHO said.

Cases have surged af­ter pre­vi­ous at­tacks on health work­ers and fa­cil­i­ties. “Ebola was re­treat­ing. These at­tacks will give it force again,” the WHO chief said.

In one ex­am­ple of how any pause can sharply af­fect Ebola con­tain­ment ef­forts, WHO has said no one in Beni could be vac­ci­nated against the virus on Mon­day. The health agency pre­vi­ously could trace more than 90% of con­tacts of in­fected peo­ple in the city but now that fig­ure is just 17%, a U.N. spokesman said Tues­day.

Res­i­dents ac­cuse Con­golese and U.N. forces of not do­ing enough to pro­tect civil­ians from the rebels who fight for con­trol of the re­gion’s vast min­eral wealth. The ADF alone is blamed for the mur­ders of more than 1,500 peo­ple in and around Beni in the past four years.

The lat­est rebel at­tack out­side Beni killed 19 peo­ple, the U.N. said Wed­nes­day.

Af­ter an emer­gency meet­ing Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Felix Tshisekedi de­cided to al­low joint op­er­a­tions be­tween Con­golese and U.N. forces in Beni fol­low­ing the protests that also burned the town hall.

Far from the cap­i­tal, Kin­shasa, some trau­ma­tized res­i­dents in the densely pop­u­lated bor­der re­gion near Uganda and Rwanda are wary of out­siders, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the Ebola con­tain­ment work in a part of Congo that had never recorded the virus be­fore.

De­spite two promis­ing new Ebola vac­cines, health work­ers con­tinue to bat­tle mis­in­for­ma­tion and re­luc­tance to seek treat­ment for the virus that is largely spread via close con­tact with the bod­ily flu­ids of in­fected peo­ple, in­clud­ing the dead.

In ad­di­tion, many lo­cal health work­ers have been re­cruited by the “well-pay­ing” Ebola re­sponse, lead­ing to short­ages of trained peo­ple to deal with other se­ri­ous health is­sues such as an even dead­lier measles out­break and malaria, the med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors Without Bor­ders said in a state­ment.

AP Photo/Al-hadji Ku­dra Maliro

Smoke from the United Na­tions com­pound rises Mon­day in Beni, Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. An­gry res­i­dents of this east­ern Congo city burned the town hall and stormed the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion, known as MONUSCO, af­ter Al­lied Demo­cratic Forces rebels killed eight peo­ple and kid­napped nine overnight.

AP Photo/Jerome De­lay, File

In this July 16 file photo, health work­ers dressed in pro­tec­tive gear be­gin their shift at an Ebola treat­ment cen­ter in Beni, Congo DRC.

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