Attacks could reverse gains in Congo's Ebola fight, says WHO
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 14, 2019. (Martial Trezzini / Keystone via AP)
Jamey Keaten and Krista Larson, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, March 14, 2019 10:28AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 14, 2019 11:14AM EDT
GENEVA -- Attacks on Ebola treatment centres in eastern Congo threaten to reverse the gains being made against the current outbreak of the deadly virus, the director-general of the World Health Organization said Thursday as a fourth assault on a health centre was reported.
Nearly 600 people have died from Ebola in the volatile region, making it the second most deadly in history.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has just returned from a visit to the affected areas in Congo, insisted that efforts to contain Ebola are succeeding. He said that the WHO hopes the outbreak will be brought to an end in the next six months.
His optimistic assessment Thursday starkly contrasted to one offered last week by the head of Doctors Without Borders, which has had to pull out of two Ebola centres following attacks. Eastern Congo is home to a myriad of armed groups, and the Ebola epidemic has deepened the political and economic grievances of many in the area.
Doctors Without Borders said over the last several weeks that some 43 per cent of new cases in the epicenter towns of Katwa and Butembo had no known links to other cases. That means the vigorous efforts to track the contacts of the sick are not entirely successful.
And more than 40 per cent of the deaths are still taking place in communities rather than at Ebola treatment centres. The bodies of victims are highly contagious, and the aid group said that figure shows community mistrust is still widespread.
Tedros told journalists in Geneva that a much larger crisis has been averted: Ebola has been contained to eastern Congo without spreading across the massive Central African nation or crossing borders into neighbouring countries.
"Despite the incredibly difficult situation the outbreak has been contained in 11 out of the 28 communities that have had cases," Tedros said.
"You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting," he added.
Doctors Without Borders described conditions at the epicenter in Congo as "toxic," saying that government security forces were complicating the effort by trying to force people into treatment centres.
Amid the backlash against the Ebola response, four health centres have been attacked. In the latest attack, one person was killed and another wounded on Thursday in an attack on an Ebola health centre, according to Richard Nyembo, a local administrator for Lubero province. The violence erupted in Mamboa, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) from Butembo, one of the current disease hotspots noted by the WHO. The attackers targeted an Ebola transit centre, where suspected cases are evaluated and then referred to treatment centres in the area.
Congo has seen periodic outbreaks of the Ebola virus since it was first identified in 1976. At least 584 people have died among the 927 confirmed and probable cases in this outbreak.
This version corrects to say 20 communities, not 28, per WHO update
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo contributed to this report