Ebola Deaths Increase and Violence Threatens Safety of Operations

More than 1,100 people have died in the current Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo that started in August 2018.

May 17, 2019
Chia-Yi Hou

ABOVE: Transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus

Violence in Democratic Republic of Congo is making it difficult for medical personnel to treat Ebola patients, according to The Washington Post. As of May 15, the World Health Organization reports that there have been 1,760 total cases and 1,161 deaths in the current outbreak that began in August 2018.

Safety for the doctors in the area is in question. “Our staff has to lie about being doctors in order to treat people,” says Tariq Riebel of the International Rescue Committee to the Post, otherwise people throw rocks at them. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) did not declare the Ebola situation an international emergency in April, and experts agree that making it an international emergency may not have helped the situation. Declaring it an international emergency would have brought in more international aid in the form of money and personnel. “There’s not enough money . . . but that, per se, is not going to resolve the problem. You don’t stop a war with money,” Ilona Kickbusch of the Graduate Institute of International Development Studies told STAT earlier this week.

The outbreak situation tends to get worse after violence between armed and military groups, and also attacks on health workers, which leads organization to pull back on their operations. “Violent attacks are winning, and infections are unchecked,” says J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies to the Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield says his agency only has 17 people in Kinshasa and Goma, both cities in Democratic Republic of Congo that are not hotspots for Ebola cases, according to the WHO, and he hopes to increase that to 40, according to the Post. “The main challenges on the ground are the insecurity and the community reluctance, fueled by conspiracy theories,” says Preben Aavitsland of the University of Oslo to STAT. Conspiracy theories take the form of misinformation and rumors, such as corpses being stolen to sell organs, and lead people to fear health workers and keep them from seeking care, Science reported earlier this year.

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