Armed Conflict Worsens Ebola Outbreak in DRC

Guns and public health don’t mix.

Kuala Lumpur, 30 April – The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, currently in its eighth month, has become the second largest ever recorded spread of the disease.

The earlier 2014 – 2016 outbreak which spread across three countries (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea) killed more than 11,000 people. That epidemic saw 1,000 new cases every week.

The ongoing outbreak has so far claimed more than 569 deaths in an area bordering Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. Over 100 armed groups involved in violence and conflicts in the area are threatening to reverse gains in efforts to contain the disease.

Despite the potential availability of antiviral drugs and a vaccine which has been given to nearly 90,000 people which has helped to contain the outbreak, there continues to be immense concern that the virus will move beyond the affected areas.

Ebola treatment facilities have been attacked, healthcare workers subjected to violence and even killed by armed groups. Locals misunderstand the disease, distrust and even fear outsiders including health workers.

Last month, Doctors without Borders called for patients to be treated better and to address the trust deficit where humanitarian workers and Ebola responders were increasingly seen as the enemy. It emphasised the need for medical personnel to treat Ebola patients “as humans and not biothreats.”

In an essay published early this month in The New England Journal of Medicine, a member of the humanitarian organisation wrote: “Early in the epidemic, we witnessed armed agents forcibly bringing patients in for treatment. In a population already traumatized by violence and forceful responses to numerous crises, such tactics fuel distrust of responders, which prompts patients to flee and spawns violence.”

“The lesson is clear: Guns and public health don’t mix.”

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