It had begun to look as if the authorities in the Congo, and the international medical teams, had started to get on top of the big Ebola outbreak there. Sadly, their progress has just come to a grinding halt.
Three health workers were killed when Mai-Mai fighters attacked a center run by the United Nations health agency overnight in Biakato, a local official, Salambongo Selemani, told The Associated Press. One resident also was killed and Congolese forces killed one attacker and captured two others, Mr. Selemani said.
Warnings had been posted earlier demanding that the health workers leave or face “the worst,” he said.
Health workers trying to contain the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history have been targeted in the past, but the current outbreak has been described by some observers as more complicated than any other. Several rebel groups are active in the region, and local officials have said that some of the insurgents believe that the reports of Ebola are a political trick.
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The Ebola response was put on lockdown in Beni, dismaying health experts who say every attack hurts crucial efforts to contain the deadly virus. Most recent new cases have been reported in the newly targeted communities of Biakato, Mangina and Beni.
The number of cases had been dropping in the yearlong outbreak, which has killed more than 2,100 people and was declared a global health emergency earlier this year. Several days this month, zero cases were reported, but cases have surged after attacks on health workers and facilities.
In one example of how any pause can sharply affect Ebola containment efforts, the World Health Organization has said that no one in Beni could be vaccinated against the virus on Monday. The health agency could previously trace more than 90 percent of contacts of infected people in the city, but that figure has dropped to 17 percent, a United Nations spokesman said on Tuesday.
There's more at the link.
The containment effort against Ebola has depended very heavily on "boots on the ground": local workers, helped by foreign doctors and specialists, going from house to house, checking on the health of everybody in an area, taking the sick to treatment centers, and quarantining their contacts until it was certain they had not spread the disease. If the price of doing that is a bullet, there isn't going to be much more of it, that's for sure!
My prayers go to those who were killed. That won't comfort their loved ones, of course, and it won't help stop the resurgence of Ebola if the primitive, animist militia in the area can't be controlled or contained. Prayer won't do that - it'll take more boots on the ground, these ones armed and trained military personnel. Local troops won't do. They're largely untrained, and most of them are so ill-educated they probably believe, as the militias do, that Ebola is actually a Western plot against the African population. It'll take more effective, more efficient international intervention - but international troops, if they have any sense, will resign rather than allow themselves to be sent into a region where their chances of dying of the world's most loathsome disease are better than average.
Absent such intervention, this local and regional crisis could still spiral out of control, and become global.
Ebola isn't the only health crisis in Africa, either. How about new cases of polio that appear to be caused by a mutation in the polio strain used in the oral vaccine widely distributed there? If the vaccine itself is the problem, that's a very major issue indeed.