The Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, has pleaded for access to conflict zones in Ebola-ravaged areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Ghebreyesus warned the conflict zones could constitute ‘hiding places’ for the deadly virus in DRC, following a two-day mission in the country.
He repeated his call for warring parties in conflict-riven North Kivu to stop fighting and allow health team access to areas affected by the recent Ebola outbreak in the region.
Speaking in Geneva, the WHO chief stated that his visit to Beni and Mangina – the epicentre of the outbreak which started about a week ago – left him “more worried” than he had been over containing the outbreak on the western side of the country, which officially ended late July.
“What makes the outbreak in Eastern DRC or Northern Kivu more dangerous, is that there is a security challenge.
“There is active conflict in that area,” Ghebreyesus said.
He noted that since January, the area had seen more than 120 violent incidents, including killings and kidnappings of civilians.
“We have difficulty accessing those areas and people in those areas will have difficulty moving to places where they can get the support they need.
“We are asking the international community to help in ensuring access into the inaccessible areas.
“We also call on the warring parties for a cessation of hostilities because the virus is dangerous to all; it doesn’t choose between this group or that group.’’
According to WHO and the DRC’s Ministry of Health, the number of cases so far stands at 57 confirmed or suspected cases, with 41 deaths, already surpassing the previous Ebola outbreak in the country’s Equateur Province, with 53 cases and 29 deaths.
In addition, WHO reported that the number of women infected in Kivu so far was much higher than the number of men infected.
Apart from the lack of access, the WHO chief cited several factors that complicated the operational environment for Ebola responders, including the high population density in North Kivu, which was not an issue in Equateur Province.
Another factor was the large-scale population movements within the region and across borders with neighbouring countries, which continued.
He added that some one million people have been internally-displaced so far by fighting.
The WHO chief also reported that seven health workers had been infected to date, explaining that this presents additional challenges for the response.
Ghebreyesus assured that, while all these factors rendered this outbreak “more difficult to manage,” WHO was continuing to provide support to the Ministry of Health and “doing all we can to be more aggressive than the virus’’.
Case-finding efforts have led to the identification of over 600 potential virus carriers so far; vaccinations and treatment programmes are underway while awareness has been stepped up within affected communities, through radio broadcasts and other community-wide communication.
Ghebreyesus commended the joint efforts by the Government of DRC, WHO, the UN stabilisation mission in-country (MONUSCO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and various international non-profit organisations in order to defeat the virus.
Thanking donors for their support in helping defeat the previous outbreaks in the Equateur Province, Ghebreyesus called on the international community to “speed up the financing’’ to respond to this new crisis.