The Ebola epidemic in north-eastern Congo is still rumbling along. It hasn't spread as fast as it could, thanks to truly heroic measures by medical teams trying to contain it: but their efforts are being stymied by local opposition, superstition and backwardness, about which I wrote recently.
That opposition turned deadly in recent days.
An armed group attacked an Ebola treatment centre in Butembo, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on February 27. It wasn’t an isolated incident-- three days earlier, an armed group also attacked another health centre about 15 kilometres away from the first. In both cases, the assaillants didn’t harm patients or staff but instead sought to burn and destroy the buildings and medical equipment, according to our Observers.
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On February 19, a group of men armed with bows and arrows murdered a nurse in Vuhovi, which is about 15 kilometres from Katwa.
After that deadly incident, a group of nurses -- fearful for their lives and safety -- went on strike. This tragedy and the resulting protests disrupted efforts to quell the epidemic.
. . .
Everyone that the France 24 Observers interviewed said that these attacks were a violent reflection of the general uneasiness and suspicion amongst the population towards the specialists treating Ebola. This mistrust has been fuelled by false information and a general lack of knowledge linked to the conflict, says Charly Mathekis, a 44-year-old teacher and writer in Katwa.
"People are confused. On one hand, some political leaders have said in the media that Ebola was invented for political reasons while, on the other hand, religious leaders are calling on people to take the epidemic seriously. Local people also resent the fact that a lot of the healthcare workers brought in to deal with this crisis come from other regions or abroad and that they are better paid than local nurses.
"Some people can’t fathom why people with symptoms similar to malaria go into these Ebola treatment centres and end up dying several days later. They think that the illness is actually created and spread in these centres.
"Lots of false information, rumours and conspiracy theories have been circulating both online and by word of mouth. Many of these rumours claim that the illness was manufactured as a way to generate profit or as a political move meant to delay the elections [Editor’s note: In late December, elections were delayed in both Beni and Butembo because of the Ebola epidemic]."
There's more at the link.
The New York Times reports that the attacks have halted efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic in the region.
Two attacks on Ebola treatment centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced the international aid group Doctors Without Borders to close the facilities, it said on Thursday, warning that the outbreak was not under control.
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“This attack has crippled our ability to respond to what is now the epicenter of the outbreak,” Emmanuel Massart, the emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Katwa, said in a statement on Tuesday.
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With international groups, Congo quelled an Ebola outbreak last year, and aid workers said the success of that campaign was cause for hope in the current crisis. But for now, Ms. Elmer said, the loss of the two centers was “absolutely crippling in the area where it’s the biggest hot spot right now.”
Again, more at the link. You can read more from Doctors Without Borders here about recent events.
As I've said before, ignore the "official" figures about the number of people infected, the death rate, etc. I know that area from of old. It's highly likely - approaching certainty, IMHO - that the true toll is several times higher than reported. It's just that with so many people scattered through the equatorial forest and bushlands in informal settlements, or running from any of the dozens of armed groups competing for control of the region, no-one's been able to get to them, or observe the cause of death of the many who get sick. Their survivors have a vested interest in not being identified as having had contact with an Ebola victim, because if that happens, they'll be forcibly quarantined in a camp filled with others who've had the same contact. Effectively, they'll be incarcerated among the highest-risk population in the area. Would anyone in their right mind want that to happen to them? I certainly wouldn't!
The Ebola epidemic may not be discussed much in the mainstream media, but it's got the potential to be the disaster of the decade, if not the century, if it breaks out of its present geographical limits and spreads across the rest of central Africa. If that happens, it'll be in Europe and the Americas before you know it . . . and then hell's coming to breakfast, because there is no way enough vaccine can be produced in time to deal with something on that scale. "It takes a year to make a batch of the vaccine, from ordering the ingredients to capping filled multidose vials." The stockpile of vaccine was at 300,000 doses late last year, but who knows how many are left now?
When you see the CDC making ebola vaccine available to US first responders and hospital emergency room staff, and urging them to get it ASAP . . . that'll be the sign that it's too late to worry.