Eastern DR Congo Battles with Ebola and Massacres

Insecurity, rumors and suspicion are hampering the efforts of aid agencies to combat the latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Current Ebola Outbreak Areas

The Ebola outbreak in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu started in August 2018, only a few days after May’s outbreak in the Equator province (North-West DR Congo) officially ended.

Earlier this week, an ambulance transporting an Ebola victim to a cemetery in the region of Beni (North Kivu Province) for safe burial was ambushed by a group of young skeptical locals.  Two of the three Congolese Red Cross volunteers on board the ambulance were seriously injured.

As in the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic which affected Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s local population has a strong tradition of home care using traditional medicines and is both reluctant to accept and suspicious of the quarantine measures and safe burial practices required to limit contagion.  Rumours that the disease is the result not the cause of the treatment abound and patients have been known to leave healthcare facilities or avoid monitoring by aid workers, thereby increasing the risk of infection in those around them.

The situation in North Kivu Province is particularly critical because the local population and aid workers also face major security issues.  Since 2014, North Kivu Province has been the site of repeated massacres, often perpetrated at night.  Thousands of women, children and men have been killed or kidnapped by rebel militias.  Despite a heavy military presence, 21 people were killed in the latest attack which took place in the town of Beni on 22 September2018.

Claiming that the massacres have killed almost two thousand people since they began, local leaders declared a period of mourning from 24-28 September and a general strike (journée ville morte) on 1 October to demand the intervention of non-Congolese military forces in the area.

Unfortunately, the mourning shutdown and strikers' demonstrations made further impeded Ebola aid workers in their tasks of patient identification, care and monitoring, and safe burial of the deceased.

In its 4 October report, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised that their anti-Ebola operations are now back to full scale but raised its national and regional risk assessment level from “high” to “very high” in view of both the security concerns and the fact that the affected areas now span hundreds of kilometres and spread into new insecure areas in the Tchomia Health Zone near the Ugandan border.

The Ministry of Health, WHO and all the main medical NGO’s are working together to vaccinate, treat and contain the disease.  Neighbouring countries have been put on alert and measures are being taken to strengthen their emergency public health operations.

WHO does not recommend the implementation of travel or trade restrictions with the Democratic Republic of Congo at the present time, and no countries have introduced any such measures.

Budd's local offices confirm that the country’s capital, Kinshasa and the ports (Matadi, Boma, Banana) over a thousand miles west of Ituri and North Kivu Provinces remain unscathed and no sanitary or restrictive measures are in force.


Sarah Penwarden
Budd Marseille-Fos

WHO Key Ebola facts:

  • Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
  • The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
  • The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.
  • The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests. The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa involved major urban areas as well as rural ones.
  • Community engagement is key to successfully controlling outbreaks. Good outbreak control relies on applying a package of interventions, namely case management, infection prevention and control practices, surveillance and contact tracing, a good laboratory service, safe and dignified burials and social mobilisation.
  • Early supportive care with rehydration, symptomatic treatment improves survival. There is as yet no licensed treatment proven to neutralize the virus but a range of blood, immunological and drug therapies are under development.






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