A health worker puts on Ebola protection gear at the Ebola treatment centre in Beni, the DRC, March 31 2019. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER
A health worker puts on Ebola protection gear at the Ebola treatment centre in Beni, the DRC, March 31 2019. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER

Goma — Four Ebola workers in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were killed and five injured, adding to the toll of people who have died fighting the nearly 16-month-old epidemic, the UN said on Thursday.

A member of the vaccination team and two drivers were killed at an Ebola workers’ accommodation camp in Biakato Mines in Ituri province, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The attack occurred 2km from a temporary base used by UN peacekeepers, one of whom was injured in an operation to repel the assailants, the UN said.

A second attack claimed the life of a police guard at an Ebola co-ordination office in Mangina, a few dozen kilometres away in North Kivu province.

“We are heartbroken that people have died in the line of duty as they worked to save others,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The world has lost brave professionals,” he said, quoted in a WHO statement issued in Geneva.

There was no immediate claim for the attacks, which DRC’s national co-ordinator for Ebola, Dr Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said occurred “almost simultaneously, around midnight”.

None of the casualties were WHO staff.

An outbreak of the much-feared haemorrhagic virus has killed 2,199 in North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces since August 1 2018, according to the latest official figures.

It is the DRC’s 10th Ebola epidemic and the second deadliest on record after an outbreak that struck West Africa in 2014/2016, claiming more than 11,300 lives.

Mangina is the historic starting point of the epidemic. UN secretary-general António Guterres visited the town on September 1.

Security fears

Lack of security has complicated the epidemic from the outset, compounding resistance within communities to preventive measures, care facilities and safe burials.

On November 4, the authorities said more than 300 attacks on Ebola health workers had been recorded since the start of 2019, leaving six dead and 70 wounded, some of them patients.

The WHO said that last week, seven cases of Ebola had been recorded, compared with the peak of more than 120 per week in April 2019.

“Ebola was retreating. These attacks will give it force again, and more people will die as a consequence,” Tedros warned. “It will be tragic to see more unnecessary suffering in communities that have already suffered so much. We call on everyone who has a role to play to end this cycle of violence.”

Vast tracts of eastern DRC are in the grip of armed groups, especially a shadowy militia called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). The armed forces launched an offensive in the region on October 30, prompting a wave of massacres of civilians by suspected ADF men.

Ninety-nine people have been killed by armed groups in the Beni area alone since November 5, according to the not-for-profit Congo Research Group (CRG).

The bloodshed has sparked a wave of anger at the authorities and the UN mission in the DRC, the organisation stabilisation mission in the DRC (Monusco). Seven people have died in protests since Saturday.

AFP