GENEVA - The World Health Organization says violent protests in DR Congo's conflict-ridden North Kivu Province are hampering efforts to control the spread of the Ebola virus. Protests erupted Thursday in response to the government's decision to delay presidential elections in the region until March.
The World Health Organization reports anti-government protests in the towns of Beni and Butembo in North Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are having a serious impact on the Ebola response operation. It says critical field work is being disrupted; including vaccinations, contact tracing, and checking on people who have been potentially exposed to the deadly virus.
WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic says an Ebola transit center in Beni was attacked, frightening people waiting for test results and the staff caring for them. He tells VOA the violence is an unfortunate setback to Ebola control efforts, which have been progressing.
"All gains that we have made so far in fighting Ebola in North Kivu are at risk because of this violence… And, in recent weeks, we were quite optimistic about Beni city because we have seen some decrease in numbers. However, now again with this surge in violence, we may again lose these gains," said Jasarevic.
Latest figures from the DRC Ministry of Health put the number of Ebola cases at 593, including 359 deaths — a fatality rate of 60 percent. Another 203 people reportedly have recovered from Ebola.
The outbreak in North Kivu was declared five months ago on August 1. More than 1,000 health workers from the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and other agencies are on the ground trying to stop the disease from spreading.
Jasarevic says a lot of work lies ahead before the epidemic can be brought under control. For that to happen, he says, it is important that health workers have access to the population and that their security is assured.