Protests disrupt Ebola response in Democratic Republic of the Congo

December 28, 2018

Outrage over the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s decision to postpone an election in Ebola-affected parts of the country are disrupting the response to the virus, as protests spilled Thursday from government buildings into an assessment center for patients, the World Health Organization said.

The WHO said the protests in Beni frightened people waiting for Ebola test results and staff members, forcing workers to transfer patients with suspected cases to a nearby treatment center.

Because of the unrest, response teams in Beni were unable to continue vaccinations, trace contacts of infected persons or track down potential new cases.

Protests also were held in the Ebola-affected town of Butembo, where response teams were able to investigate new cases but unable to trace contacts or provide vaccinations.

Global responders have more tools than ever to stamp out Ebola outbreaks, but attempts to eradicate the disease in North Kivu province have been marred by violence among rebel groups and civil unrest.

Nearly 600 confirmed or suspected cases and 357 deaths have been reported, making it the second-worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded, after the West African one that killed more than 11,000 from 2013 to 2016.

“We have reached a critical point in the Ebola response. After an intensification of field activities, we were seeing hopeful signs in many areas, including a recent decrease in cases in Beni,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “These gains could be lost if we suffer a period of prolonged insecurity, resulting in increased transmission. That would be a tragedy for the local population, who have already suffered too much.”

Congolese people in affected towns are protesting the government’s decision to postpone a long-awaited election in Ebola-affected parts of the country, where more than 1 million peoplelive. They say the result will be declared by the time they have their say.

President Joseph Kabila has been in power since 2001. He was supposed to step down in 2016, but an election to select his successor was delayed.

Mr. Kabila told the BBC that officials are staying within the lines of the law.

“I don’t think there will be any major issues in as far as the one-point-something million voters that you are talking about,” he said, according to the British media outlet.

The BBC said police had to fire shots in the air to disperse a crowd that attacked the Ebola center in Beni, burning down tents and stealing tables and chairs.

Update hourly