Three International Committee of the Red Cross volunteers helping bury an Ebola victim in eastern DR Congo were injured in an attack by villagers, prompting the ICRC to suspend burials in the area, health officials said.
The attack on an ambulance transporting the body to a cemetery in North Kivu province’s Beni region is the latest disruption in efforts to control the current outbreak, believed to have killed 106 people since July.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week raised its assessment of the risk of the disease spreading in the region to “very high” after a case was confirmed near a lakeside border crossing point with Uganda.
Community resistance in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the main problems facing healthcare workers, in addition to armed attacks by militia groups.
Serge Thierry, a regional ICRC representative, told Reuters three local Red Cross volunteers were wounded, two seriously, in the attack by angry residents.
“Security measures were taken immediately. Burials are suspended until further notice,” he said, referring to ICRC activity in and around Butembo in Beni region.
Proper burial of Ebola victims is critical to control the disease, which causes fever, vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through direct contact with body fluids.
Robert Kahumula, a spokesman for the local Ebola response team, said the health workers “were wounded during an attack by young people, sceptical of the presence of Ebola in the region”.
“The burial did not take place because the young people ambushed the response team and vandalised the ambulance transporting the body,” he said.
Last week WHO warned of a build-up of mistrust toward Ebola response efforts in certain communities in eastern Congo as a result of rumours, misinformation and a preference for traditional medicine practices.