- From January 1 to July 24, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 198 attacks on facilities and health workers with at least seven dead and 58 injured, according to news sources.
- Conspiracy theories and anger over the lack of an adequate response are fueling resentment among the population vulnerable to this deadly epidemic.
- On July 15, two workers involved in the Ebola prevention campaign were killed in their own homes in the province of North Kivu.
“People think that Ebola does not exist,” says Pascal Vahwere, a doctor who works to combat the disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “My team has been attacked for doing our job.” Dr. Vahwere told journalists what happened when he was surrounded by an enraged crowd in March while leading a small team of health workers administering vaccines in a remote village in the province of North Kivu.
“Suddenly, a crowd surrounded us with guns and machetes. We don’t know why they came to attack us. We got scared. We talked to people through community leaders and appease the crowd.”
These health brigades identify those who are already infected by Ebola and take them to treatment centers. They also help bury the dead. But for these teams, going to a village infected with Ebola is a risky mission. While the rapid spread of the virus is killing more people, health workers in the DRC face mobs fury. This is the result of rumors that spread like wildfires, often through WhatsApp groups. At least seven brigade members were killed in 2019.
Conspiracy theories and anger over the lack of an adequate response are fueling resentment among the population vulnerable to this deadly epidemic. “The dissemination of false information led people to believe that Ebola is a business that generates money for politicians,” says Vahwere. Vahwere works for the International Rescue Committee in Goma city, located in the east of the DRC. The city reported its first death related to Ebola only two weeks ago. Earlier this week the second case of Ebola was detected in the city. “Some even said that the treatment is actually killing people,” he adds.
From January 1 to July 24, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) documented 198 attacks on facilities and health workers with at least seven dead and 58 injured.
The list of dead includes Richard Mouzoko, a WHO epidemiologist. He died during an attack on Butembo University Hospital on April 19. Two other people were injured in that attack. In May, villagers from the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo killed a health worker and looted a treatment center. On July 15, two workers involved in the Ebola prevention campaign were killed in their own homes in the province of North Kivu.
The frequency and lethality of the attacks are affecting the fight against the epidemic. Meanwhile, the disease gains ground. In 224 days, the number of 1,000 reported cases was reached, but only 71 days later there were already 2,000 infected. “Today (Monday) we have 57 cases of Ebola at the Beni treatment center. This means that our workload is very high,” says Dr. Freddy Sangala.
Ebola is transmitted through the body fluids of an infected person, such as blood, or through objects such as blankets and clothing contaminated with these fluids. There is no cure for Ebola, but early treatment for specific symptoms, as well as the use of oral rehydration therapy and intravenous fluids, may increase the chances of survival. A vaccine has recently been administered to help prevent the spread of Ebola in the DRC. Some 170,000 people in close contact with those who were already infected with Ebola received the vaccine. But the attacks cause interruptions in the immunization campaign, which causes the disease to spread further.