Skip to main content

A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018.

Kenny-Katombe Butunka/Reuters

In a new reminder of the dangers in containing an Ebola outbreak in a war zone, suspected rebels killed seven civilians overnight in northeastern Congo and sent local residents fleeing, an official said Saturday.

Global health officials have warned that combating this outbreak is complicated by the presence of multiple armed groups in the mineral-rich region and a restless population that includes 1 million displaced people and scores of refugees leaving for nearby Uganda every week.

The insecurity means health workers might have to change a vaccination strategy that proved successful in Congo’s previous Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization’s emergency preparedness chief Dr. Peter Salama said Saturday.

Story continues below advertisement

The so-called “ring vaccination” approach of first vaccinating health workers, contacts of Ebola victims and their contacts might have to give way to the approach of vaccinating everyone in a certain geographic area such as a village or neighbourhood. That would require a larger number of vaccine doses.

Vaccinations began Wednesday in the current outbreak, which was declared on Aug. 1 and has killed 11 people in the densely populated region. WHO has said more than 3,000 Ebola vaccine doses are available in Congo.

While Congo’s previous Ebola outbreak, declared over barely a week before the current one began, set off alarm by spreading to a city of more than 1 million on the other side of the country, the current outbreak comes with the threat of armed attack.

The overnight assault that killed seven people in Mayi-Moya, about 40 kilometres (24 miles) from Beni city, was likely carried out by rebels with the Allied Democratic Forces, the administrator of Beni territory, Donat Kibwana, told The Associated Press. The rebels have killed more than 1,500 people in and around Beni in less than two years.

The rebels sent the local population fleeing, Kibwana said. Beni residents already had been shaken by the discovery on Tuesday of 14 bodies of civilians who had been seized by suspected ADF rebels.

The latest attack occurred as the WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was visiting the area to see the response to the Ebola outbreak, which is being carried out in some cases under armed escort.

United Nations peacekeepers, Congolese police and at times Congolese troops have been travelling with convoys of health workers as they fan out to contain the outbreak. Hospitals are guarded by Congolese police and military police.

Story continues below advertisement

“This will be a highly complex operation because it is occurring in an area that has been embroiled in armed conflict for 20 years,” said Hanna Leskinen, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. “People are regularly moving as waves of violence force new communities to flee. This makes tracing infected cases much harder.” Health care workers may be forced to flee as well, she said.

Parts of North Kivu province, where most of the Ebola cases have been reported, have been inaccessible to aid groups because of the fighting, Leskinen said.

“It is critical that the disease is contained before it spreads to areas where there is more active fighting or it will be incredibly challenging to reach those in need (and) ensure safe vaccination campaigns,” she said. That includes keeping the vaccines at the optimal temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 158 degrees Fahrenheit), a challenge in a region with hot temperatures and unreliable power supplies.

So far, Congo’s health ministry has said 48 cases of hemorrhagic fever have been reported in this outbreak, 21 of them confirmed as Ebola.

Nearly 1,000 people are being monitored. Screenings for the virus are being carried out at the heavily travelled border; officials have said travel restrictions are not necessary.

This is Congo’s tenth outbreak of Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead. There is no licensed treatment, and the virus can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases, depending on the strain.

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter