GENEVA - A senior World Health Organization official warns efforts to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo will remain elusive unless the vicious cycle of violence in the region is broken. Latest WHO figures put the number of Ebola cases at 2284, including 1540 deaths and 637 survivors.
WHO Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response Ibrahima Soce Fall says there has been good progress in scaling up operations to contain the spread of the deadly ebola virus in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
Fall has just returned from a three-month stint in Butembo, the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic in DR Congo. He says last week there were 79 new Ebola cases, 27 fewer than the previous week. He says infections are continuing to fall in the major urban centers of Butembo and Katwa thanks to coverage in all 33 health areas.
At the same time, he tells VOA the operation is running into difficulty in the rural areas of Mabalako and Mandima, the new hot spots of the epidemic.
“The access is more challenging. In the same area, we have some villages where you have both ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) armed group coming from Uganda and some Mai Mai groups," said Fall. "So, access needs to be assessed on a daily basis to be able to move up to the intervention. So, it is really important to take into account this very volatile situation.”
Eastern DRC has been politically unstable since 1998. There are an estimated 4.5 million internally displaced people in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says new displacements are occurring mainly in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North and South Kivu. More than 100 armed groups reportedly are engaged in sporadic fighting in the region.
Fall says constant and skilled negotiations with the armed groups are needed to gain access to these volatile areas.
“The outbreak started there last year and spread to other areas," Fall said. "So, it is important to break this vicious cycle to contain very quickly the situation in Mabalako and Mandima, where we have more than 55 percent of the cases coming from.”
Fall says it will be exceedingly difficult to contain the virus if more money is not immediately forthcoming. He says $98 million is needed to support the government-led response to defeat ebola. To date, he says less than half that amount has been received.