Hundreds gathered in Congo's eastern city of Goma Thursday to support Ebola response teams that have seen increasing attacks and resistance among communities where Ebola continues to spread.
North Kivu Governor Carly Kasivita, who organized the march, said that anyone spreading misinformation and claiming that “Ebola is a business” will face arrest.
“We are very concerned ... Some pastors, some politicians, are venturing into the public health debate and disorienting many of our citizens with misinformation. These pastors who deny the existence of Ebola will be put in jail as soon as they are caught,” Kasivita said.
The governor also promised more marches and initiatives to raise awareness in other parts of the province, including Beni and Butembo where Ebola also has spread.
“The message is to say we must stop this disease in the province. In the same way that we are concerned about security in the province, we are also concerned about Ebola,” he said.
People rode bikes alongside police, soldiers and residents in Goma carrying banners and wearing T-shirts that said STOP.
“We do not want other countries to be contaminated through our beautiful province of North Kivu. We want everyone to contribute to Ebola's end,” Kasivita said. “People need to understand that the disease exists and we call on rebel groups to work with response teams because there are environments where teams cannot get because of insecurity.”
The Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 1,800 people since it was declared one year ago in eastern Congo, has not shown signs of slowing down despite new treatments and vaccines given to more than 197,000 people in the region. New cases emerged in Goma, the capital of North Kivu, in recent months and have spread to a new province in the past week.
Insecurity has been one factor in a region where rebel groups have fought for control of mineral-rich lands for decades. Ebola also has spread because of mistrust by communities who have also staged attacks against health workers.
The governor of South Kivu and his Rwandan counterpart in the Western Province signed a bilateral agreement on Wednesday in Bukavu to unite their efforts in the fight against Ebola, while respecting peoples' rights to cross borders.
To help combat further spread of Ebola, however, the two delegations agreed to exchange specific information, including a list of high-risk people, said Daniel Lwaboshi, deputy chief of staff of the governor of South Kivu.
“These are those people who have been in contact with the sick, because we have them in our province,” he said.
Measures are already in place. Days ago, several people from South Kivu had been prevented from crossing the border.