The impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) has been hit by a fresh Ebola outbreak since August 2018. Being the third such incident in less than two years, the latest outbreak centered in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu where the number of deaths associated with the disease has risen steadily to at least 186. To add insult to injury, the current outbreak is also located in a region in which an active conflict between rival armed groups has been ongoing since 2015.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had in the past admitted that the fight to prevent the spread of the disease is going to be “very, very complex”. The infrastructures in the affected regions remain inadequate while the presence of militants also made vaccination and treatment missions a highly risky affair. Although many militant groups operate in the region, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) remains at the forefront as its fighters regularly clash with security forces as well as terrorize local citizens in Ituri and North Kivu. Several high-profile massacres have taken in place in the past, leaving hundreds of casualties. Originally from Uganda, the group has also been accused of links with the Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia. Amidst constant attacks, the group has also dented the confidence of locals toward the government, which in turn resulted in aid workers’ efforts to engage the communities becoming futile.
Additionally, there is also concern that the spread of the disease will be accelerated as the movement of internal displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees could result in difficulty of coordinating a targeted response. It has been reported that more than half of the 800,000 refugees fleeing the various conflicts in D.R. Congo are currently in neighboring Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. There have been fears that this might turn these countries into a hotbed for the disease to infect more people should prevention efforts fail. WHO had warned that the risk for it to happen remains “very high”. Precautionary measures have been implemented by Uganda that vaccinates high-risk health workers in the border region.
Tackling the ongoing conflict in D.R. Congo will be an arduous task, though there are hopes that the intensified military operation against ADF as well as other militant groups could ensure that the campaign against Ebola continues safely. There are however still several factors to consider as tensions between rival political parties could flare due to the upcoming elections later in 2018. This might in turn hamper the Ebola vaccination efforts once again ,as well as provide windows for militants to stage more attacks
Advice to prevent Ebola
- Do not consume raw bushmeat. Cook meat thoroughly and handle them with gloves
- Wash hands regularly
- Contact with body fluids should be avoided and washing with soap and water is recommended
- Get vaccinated if you need to travel to an infected region
- Visit your personal physician or a travel health clinic 4-8 weeks before travelling
SAFEY provides regular updates on the ongoing outbreak of Ebola in DR Congo.