GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The World Health Organization warns the Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is spreading to new parts of conflict-ridden North Kivu province, including areas that border Uganda and Rwanda.
Attacks by armed opposition groups in North Kivu have increased in severity and frequency in recent weeks. The most recent attack on September 22 in the city of Beni reportedly killed at least 21 people, including 17 civilians.
WHO sees this attack as especially serious as Beni is the site for the entire anti-Ebola operation.
WHO health emergencies program chief Peter Salama said increasing insecurity and community mistrust are hurting efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from spreading.
He feared the combination of these and other factors could create ideal conditions for an epidemic.
“A perfect storm of active conflict limiting our ability to access civilians, distress by segments of the community already traumatized by decades of conflict and of murder, driven by a fear of a terrifying disease, but also exploited and manipulated by local politicians prior to election," said Salama.
North Kivu is an opposition stronghold. Salama said he is very concerned that politicians are using Ebola as a political tool before Congo's December 23 presidential elections. He said he sees armed opposition groups trying to blame the authorities for the outbreak.
WHO reports the number of confirmed and probable cases of Ebola in this outbreak stands at 150, including 100 deaths. Salama said progress that was made in protecting people against the virus through vaccinations and several experimental drugs is in jeopardy.
The Ebola outbreak in North Kivu is the 10th in the DRC since 1976. Salama said this outbreak is the most difficult.