The death toll in Democratic Republic of Congo’s year-long Ebola outbreak climbed above 2,000, government data showed, as responders battle to overcome community mistrust and widespread security problems.
The death in neighbouring Uganda of a nine-year-old girl who tested positive for the virus after entering from Congo underscored the challenge medical teams face containing the disease in border territory with a highly mobile population.
The government team overseeing the response said the number of confirmed and probable cases hit a milestone of more than 3 000 in what has become the second-worst epidemic of the virus on record.
Despite development of an effective vaccine and treatments, health workers struggle to stop the virus spreading in remote and conflict-hit areas of eastern Congo, where locals are wary of the response effort.
The World Health Organszation said the latest Uganda case highlighted border authorities’ skill at detecting and isolating potential sources of transmission.
“This case was picked up at the border,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said in Geneva. “The people at the borders have the expertise.”
This is Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak, but is the first in the densely forested hillside provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where militia-led violence and ethnic killing undermine security.
The WHO declared the epidemic an international health emergency in July – only the fifth outbreak to warrant this status since the system was introduced in 2005.
Authorities have come up against new fronts in their fight to contain the virus, testing the reach and flexibility of responders.
Health workers confirmed the first cases in South Kivu province on August 16. Soon after, a woman contracted the virus in a remote, militia-controlled territory in North Kivu, hundreds of kilometres away from other known cases.
“The response is spread too thin chasing new cases at the expense of the longer-term community engagement that is crucial if we’re ever to hope of being Ebola free,” Oxfam’s Congo Director Corinne N’Daw said in a statement.
Despite the virus spreading, the past week’s transmission rate was little changed from the past month and a half, which saw an average of 77 new cases per week, according to the WHO.
Last week the WHO voiced concern about the widening geographic reach of the disease, but confirmed the virus had not gained a foothold in Goma, after four cases were recorded there in July and early August.
Goma, a city of nearly two million people on the Rwandan border, was on high alert for weeks after a gold miner with a large family infected several people with Ebola before dying.
Latest government data showed Ebola deaths reaching 2,006 and cases at 3,004.
“Two thousand deaths means there is a problem,” said Timothée Buliga, a priest, returning home from church in Goma. “We need to reach the point where we reject Ebola, say no and eradicate it definitively.”
Only the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa was deadlier than the current outbreak. More than 11 300 people died then out of 28000 infected.