International organisations warned of potential resurgence of Ebola in DR Congo (DRC) after deadly militia attacks on health centres forced aid groups to suspend operations and withdraw staff from the epidemic’s last strongholds.
Mai Mai militia fighters killed four people and injured others at two Ebola centres last week in the violence hampering efforts to tame the outbreak in eastern DRC.
The world’s second biggest Ebola epidemic on record killed over 2 200 people since mid-2018. New infections slowed in recent months.
“Ebola was retreating and is now likely to resurge,” World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a briefing in Geneva. WHO relocated 173 staff while the UN children’s agency UNICEF evacuated 20 staff members.
After Thursday’s fatal raids on health centres in Mangina and Byakoto, a screening centre was attacked overnight in Oicha, Congolese health authorities said.
Mai Mai fighters and local residents attacked health facilities because they believe Ebola does not exist and in other cases because of resentment that they have not benefited from the influx of donor funding.
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) halted operations in Mangina, Beni and Butembo.
“We’ve had to put all Ebola activities on hold in high-risk areas,” said Corrie Butler, spokeswoman for the IFRC in Congo, saying the attacks were in areas with most Ebola cases.
At least 1 500 Red Cross staff and volunteers are involved in Ebola work in east Congo, she said, most in areas where activities are now suspended due to violence.
The World Food Programme (WFP), a UN agency which provides food to those around infected people and at risk of Ebola, said activities were interrupted due to insecurity.
Congolese health authorities evacuated 13 staff and other transfers were underway.
The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) charity said activities at its treatment centres in Mambasa and Katwa were not suspended but it was monitoring the security situation.
Thursday’s attacks followed raids on communities by suspected Islamist rebels believed to have killed at least 100 people in the past month, according to UN figures.
At least four people died during protests at the perceived failure of the army and UN peacekeepers to protect civilians from the Islamist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).