GENEVA - The International Organization for Migration warns massive displacement from renewed inter-ethnic fighting in DR Congo’s Ebola-affected Ituri province poses a serious health hazard.
At least 160 people were killed during renewed clashes early last month between Lendu farmers and Hema herders in Ituri province. U.N. agencies report the violence has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and sent more than 7,500 refugees fleeing for their lives into neighboring Uganda.
The International Organization for Migration reports people who have fled the frontline of the conflict are living in abysmal conditions that create a fertile ground for the spread of disease, most worryingly Ebola.
The latest World Health Organization figures put the number of Ebola cases at 2,382, including 1,606 deaths. The bulk of these cases and deaths are in conflict-ridden North Kivu province About 10 percent are in Ituri.
The inter-communal fighting has displaced an estimated 400,000 people. IOM spokesman, Joel Millman, says his agency manages 12 displacement sites in Ituri’s Djugu Territory. Thousands of people unable to cram into these overcrowded camps, he says, are sheltering in spontaneous sites.
“Poor hygiene conditions in displacement sites severely increase the risk that Ebola, as well as cholera, measles and acute respiratory diseases, will spread," Millman said. "Many of these people are seeking assistance in Ebola-affected Bunia, where the displacement site officially called “General Hospital Site” has received more than 5,000 new Internally Displaced Persons, increasing the site’s population to 10,000 or twice its capacity.”
Millman says plans are underway to relocate many of the IDPs to a new improved settlement on land owned by Bunia’s Catholic Diocese.
He says IOM also is reinforcing its Ebola surveillance and disease prevention activities at Ituri’s Points of Entry at International borders. Measures include hand washing, hygiene promotion, and screening travelers for possible Ebola infections.
On June 11, the first case of Ebola spread across the border from DRC to Uganda. A five-year old boy and his grandmother subsequently died from the deadly virus.
Millman says IOM is working to reduce disease transmission to new areas and across borders by expanding its preparedness measures to include Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi.