DRC Ebola response hampered by conflict

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is struggling to contain a new outbreak of the Ebola virus in its eastern region — just weeks after declaring the end of a previous outbreak in another part of the country.

The new outbreak is centred around the city of Mangina in North Kivu. The World Health Organisation has reported 78 probable cases of Ebola, including 44 deaths, in an area with a population of around 1-million people. An estimated 1 500 people have been identified as contacts of people infected with the disease.

READ MORE: Congo to start Ebola vaccinations amid new outbreak

The virus — first detected in the mid-1970s in then Zaire, now the DRC — causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea. Spread through contact with the blood and bodily fluids of infected people or animals, it is one of the world’s deadliest viruses, killing up to 90% of those infected. The disease has an incubation period of up to 21 days, meaning it can take as long as three weeks for an infected person to show symptoms.

The ongoing conflict in eastern DRC makes containing this latest outbreak a challenge unlike any seen before.

More than 100 rebel groups operate in North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri province. North Kivu is situated on the border of Uganda and is home to about 8-million people, including as many as a million internally displaced people who live in refugee camps. Beni, the region’s largest city has been the target of bombings attributed to Islamic militants from across the border.

Military action against the rebel groups is underway with the help of UN peacekeepers as the region around Beni has in the past been the site of fighting, civilian massacres and abductions. 

Oicha, a village 45 kilometres to the north of Beni, is considered the frontline between the army and rebels. Much of its population has fled and Ebola has been confirmed there. Without a UN troop escort, medical professionals cannot access the area, further straining medical relief efforts to track, monitor and contain the disease.

READ MORE: Why Ebola hit West Africa hard

Two weeks ago, the health ministry declared another outbreak in the DRC’s Equateur province had been contained, after a vaccine was trialled there. Doctors, nurses and patients’ families received the vaccine.

The new outbreak in North Kivu — which appears to have blindsided health officials — is already significantly worse than the one that hit Equateur earlier this year, which killed 33 people.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories

Human health, animal health and environmental health are inextricably linked

To take care of ourselves, we must take care of the world around us

Covid-19 deepens the educational divide

With the closure of schools, learning has moved to online platforms across the world, but a UNESCO report said only 12% of households in the least-developed countries have internet access at home

The coping mechanisms the DRC is putting in place as it faces Ebola, measles and Covid-19

The DRC has systematically gone about strengthening health infrastructure, engaging the community and doing better research

The pandemic has shifted patterns of conflict in Africa

Although the overall rate of conflict has remained steady in Africa during the past 10 weeks of the pandemic, the nature of this is changing in subtle but significant ways

Images of black death satisfy disturbing desires and purposes

The protests sweeping the United States after the latest police killing of a black man again speak to the ability of images to evoke powerful emotional responses

A brief history of anti-black violence in China

The recent news of evictions and mistreatment of African students in China during the Covid-19 pandemic is rooted in a history of violence and discrimination

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

The PPE scandal that the Treasury hasn’t touched

Many government officials have been talking tough about dealing with rampant corruption in PPE procurement but the majority won't even release names of who has benefited from the R10-billion spend

ANC still at odds over how to tackle leaders facing...

The ANC’s top six has been mandated to work closely with its integrity committee to tackle claims of corruption against senior party members

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday