The Ebola epidemic that affects the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since August 1 has already become the worst in all of history in this country and the second in the world, after which affected to West Africa in 2014-2016. According to figures provided by the Congolese Ministry of Health this Sunday, the current outbreak has already reached 494 cases and 283 deaths, exceeding the epidemic in 1976, when 318 people were sick, and equating the number of deaths of so.
The current outbreak was declared in the North Kivu region and has been extended, for the time being, to Ituri, areas in which different armed groups have been operating for decades in an endless conflict, which complicates the access of health personnel to many. places, as well as their mobility. “The circumstances of this epidemic are different and make it very complicated. My feeling is that, if things do not change, this will last between six or nine months, “says Luis Encinas, a Spanish nurse and ebola expert at Médicos sin Fronteras, who returned three weeks ago from the affected area.
Precisely last Thursday there were two armed attacks that killed 18 civilians in Beni, very close to the epicenter of the outbreak, and which were allegedly committed by the radical Islamist militia Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, according to its acronym in English). Armed incidents and kidnappings are very common in the area. Last November, the Army and the Intervention Brigade of the United Nations mission in the DRC launched an offensive to try to destroy the camps of this armed group, which is leading an insurgency in this country and in Uganda for 23 years.
After the declaration of the epidemic, the Government and the international community reacted relatively quickly and mobilized personnel and resources to the affected area. In fact, for the first time, the application of several experimental treatments has been combined with a broad vaccination campaign that has reached some 42,000 people, according to the Congolese Health Minister, Oly Ilunga, last week. Despite this, the refusal of many communities to declare cases, vaccinate or transfer their patients to treatment centers only complicates things further.
“The epidemic is branching out,” adds Encinas, “with hidden transmission chains. We are not in the 2014 epidemic, which arose in an area where people moved a lot from one country to another, but it would be catastrophic if it jumped to Goma or refugee camps in South Sudan. ”
In addition to the insecurity and deficiencies of the work done with the communities, which is at the origin of the population’s refusal to receive health care, the MSF expert adds three other key factors: “There is a high population density in cities such as Beni and Butembo, never before had an epidemic of this disease here and the health system is very fragile, it is weakened and this causes, for example, that the standards of protection of health personnel are below acceptable minimums. ” A total of 44 health workers have already been infected and 12 have died, according to the ministry’s figures.
The worst Ebola epidemic in history was declared at the end of March 2014 in Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. After two years and after having also reached the countries of Mali and Nigeria, as well as isolated cases in Senegal, Spain – where the nursing assistant Teresa Romero was infected – and the United States, was terminated in 2016 with a total of 28,646 infections and 11,323 deaths.