Violence hitting the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where rebel groups operate in conflict with the army, and resistance to vaccination and to declare cases by the population are complicating the Ebola epidemic who lives this country since last August 1st. The number of infections now rises to 216 and that of deceased people to 139, making this outbreak the fourth worst in the history of this country. An emergency committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) met Wednesday in Geneva. It has decided not to declare the international emergency but warn of the high risk that it may jump to neighboring countries, such as Rwanda and especially Uganda.
Two and a half months after the declaration of the epidemic, which currently extends to the regions of Ituri and North Kivu, the efforts made by the international community and the Congolese Health Ministry have not yielded the expected results. Cases have increased in this last month in particular in the city of Beni, which has become the new epicenter of the outbreak. Only last week 33 new cases were detected, of which 24 died, in a worrying peak of the evolution of the epidemic that also indicates, according to the Ministry, an improvement in the surveillance system.
The aggression suffered by a Red Cross team at the beginning of the month when they were carrying out a secure burial, resulting in two seriously injured volunteers, has raised all the alerts regarding the resistance of the population to follow the usual norms throughout Ebola epidemic. This rejection is due to the existence of rumors and false news about the disease and has caused the WHO and the Ministry of Health to redouble their efforts to dialogue with the population, to convince them to declare the cases. Many of the last deceased are community, that is, they were not detected while they were sick, which multiplies the risk of infection.
The Congolese government, which has just announced that it has achieved the vaccination of almost 20,000 people, has reacted harshly by announcing prison sentences for those who hide cases in their families or refuse to collaborate with the authorities and has even offered armed protection to NGOs and medical services to carry out tests and burials. However, the Red Cross has declined this offer. "It is very clear that we never use military or armed groups protection to carry out our work, it is not our modus operandi", Has assured the general secretary of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Elhadj As Sy.
The other negative element is the existence in this region of a conflict between the Army and rebel groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) that operates mostly north of Beni. The killings of civilians have intensified in recent months. Although health workers and researchers are not a direct target of these groups, the climate of violence complicates their displacement to areas controlled by the rebels.
In view of the worrying development of the outbreak, the WHO Secretary General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has created an emergency committee that held its first meeting in Geneva on Wednesday. Already at the end of September, the WHO modified its criteria regarding the risk of extending the outbreak to other countries and described it as "very high" due to "factors such as transport lines and population movements". This qualification has been maintained at the meeting.
The city of Beni, the new epicenter of the epidemic, is near the border of Uganda in the Great Lakes area, an area of great commercial traffic.