Violence pushes WHO to move staff out of DRC region in Ebola blow
Geneva — The World Health Organisation (WHO) has moved 49 staff out of Beni, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), overnight amid growing insecurity, but warned of the effect on the fight against Ebola.
The UN health agency said on Tuesday it has flown more than a third of its 120 staff in Beni to Goma, further south on the country’s eastern border, as insecurity in the area surged.
But it said 71 essential staff remain in the town to try to push on with work to rein in the Ebola outbreak that has left about 2,200 dead.
“The violence needs to stop … This is very bad for the Ebola response,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told journalists in Geneva.
Insecurity has complicated efforts to rein in Ebola since the latest outbreak in the DRC began in August 2018.
But violence in the lawless east of the country has recently surged, with 77 civilians killed in the Beni region since November 5, according to non-profit organisation the Congo Research Group (CRG).
On Monday, at least four protesters were killed, according to the military, after clashes broke out and protesters stormed a UN camp over the perceived failure of UN peacekeepers to stop deadly attacks from militia groups.
“The security situation in Beni has definitely worsened overnight, or throughout the last days,” Lindmeier said.
But he said that unlike several previous spikes in violence, the anger this time has not specifically targeted Ebola responders.
Cases will rise
“As the community violence is not directed at the Ebola response, we will try as long as possible to maintain a minimum support for the community,” he said, adding that those moved to Goma will also continue working remotely.
But the insecurity is nonetheless seriously hampering the response.
“Every day, every hour [that] we cannot go out [to] trace the contacts, help the communities with dignified burials, go out for vaccinations and for treatments … will most certainly result in rising cases,” Lindmeier said.
The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.
The work to halt the Ebola epidemic is based on vaccinating and carefully tracking anyone who has been in contact with those infected, and the contacts of the contacts.
Lindmeier said while health workers typically are able to successfully track more than 90% of all contacts, on Monday they only reached 17%.
Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency response chief, warned last week that the violence and lack of access was “now preventing us ending this outbreak”.
Over the week ending on November 24, seven new cases were registered, bringing the total number of cases to 3,303, including 2,199 deaths, the WHO said.