More than 1,000 people have now died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities said, as aid workers warned that the highly contagious virus combined with insecurity in the restive region was creating a “deeply worrying situation”.
The current outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-2016.
Efforts to roll back the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever have been hampered by fighting but also by resistance within communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.
“In total, there have been 1,008 deaths (942 confirmed and 66 probable),” the health ministry said in a daily update late Friday.
The central African country declared a 10th outbreak of Ebola in 40 years last August centred in the city of Beni in North Kivu province before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.
The World Health Organization had initially voiced hope it would be able to contain the outbreak, thanks in part to a new vaccine.
But in recent weeks senior WHO officials have conceded that insecurity, scarce financial resources and local politicians turning people against health workers had seriously undermined the containment effort.
“We are dealing with a difficult and volatile situation,” Michael Ryan, the executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
“We are anticipating a scenario of continued, intense transmission,” he added.
The long-standing presence of various rebel groups in Ituri and North Kivu has made it difficult for health workers to access those who might have come into contact with Ebola, a figure that currently stands at 12,000 people.
But beyond the militias, communities in the aftermath of DRC’s December elections “are being manipulated” against cooperating with Ebola responders, Ryan said.
“Communities… need to be assured that all parties are supporting the public health response and that Ebola should not become further politicised in the process,” he added.
Ryan said the UN health agency currently has enough vaccine stocks to meet its needs but doses may run short.
“We don’t necessarily know which way this outbreak is going,” he said.
More than 110,000 people have been vaccinated since the outbreak began. Neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda have also been vaccinating health workers.