Democratic Republic of Congo: Insecurity Could Slow the Containment of New Ebola Outbreak

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (August 17, 2018) – In response to the Ebola outbreak in conflict-hit DRC, which has already claimed at least 41 lives, Save the Children is urgently deploying its Emergency Health Unit and in country team to the area. They will help trace the contacts of confirmed cases and identify people who may have the disease, before referring them to Ebola treatment centers.

The Ebola virus is highly contagious and can kill within days. During this outbreak, children and women have been more likely than men to fall ill, according to the WHO. This is a change from past experience, but the reasons aren’t yet known.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of the virus, not just because they can contract it, but also because they could be orphaned if their parents or caregivers lose their lives, leading to stigmatization within the community,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children’s DRC Country Director, said.

“We are also concerned for the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers in the outbreak zone, with multiple armed groups operating in the area. The insecurity could slow down our efforts to respond to this outbreak and save lives. We must do everything in our power to prevent the Ebola outbreak spreading further. Our Emergency Health Unit will help do just that.”

Save the Children is concerned that one of the world’s biggest and most underreported humanitarian crises, with an estimated 13 million people in need of life-saving aid, could become much worse if the Ebola virus spirals out of control.

The disease has spread to five health zones in North Kivu and one in neighboring Ituri. North Kivu is among the most populated provinces in the DRC, with eight million inhabitants. It shares borders with four other provinces (Ituri, South Kivu, Maniema and Tshopo) as well as international borders with Uganda and Rwanda. Eastern DRC has been experiencing intense insecurity and a worsening humanitarian crisis, including the continuous movement of people within the country and refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. During the months of June and July an average of 1,300 people were crossing into Uganda every week.

The epicenter of this latest outbreak is in Mangina, 24 miles southwest of the town of Beni in North Kivu. Beni is insecure as it is surrounded by different armed groups and is frequently attacked. This can make accessing remote communities to trace the sources of Ebola and provide the necessary containment measures challenging.

On August 1, the DRC declared its tenth Ebola outbreak since 1976. Given its history in dealing with the virus, the DRC government, with help from the World Health Organization and other partners, should be well placed to contain this outbreak. But the current situation is made worse by the mass displacement of civilians in the country’s far east as a result of years of conflict between various armed groups and the government. Because of this the total number of suspected Ebola cases and associated deaths may be higher than reported.

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