Despite a new vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that has proven effective in 97.5 percent of cases, according to World Health Organization data, a massive Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed more than 1,100 people since August of last year, mainly due to politics as well as ongoing violence in the region.
As of Tuesday, 1,720 cases of Ebola has been diagnosed in the DRC, with 1,136 resulting in death, according to health journalist Helen Branswell reporting via her Twitter account, making the outbreak the second worst in history. In fact, Branswell reported, in the three weeks from April 22 to May 12, there were 343 “confirmed” cases of Ebola — which alone would have been the fourth-worst Ebola outbreak ever. On Tuesday of this week, 15 new cases and 12 Ebola deaths were reported, and there were indications that the outbreak was spreading south.
In the remote, largely neglected areas of the country where the outbreak has been centered, armed paramilitary groups continually terrorize the population and fight amongst themselves, creating a dangerous situation for health workers attempting to reach the area with the Ebola vaccine and other medicines. According to Jeremy Farrar, head of the aid group Wellcome Trust, the United Nations or some other peacekeeping group needs to broker a ceasefire of between six and nine months in order to halt the Ebola outbreak, The Guardian reported.
Distrust of “outsiders” in some remote DRC towns has also perpetuated the outbreak, WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told Reuters. In those areas, “they see (the capital city of) Kinshasa as being as far away as New York. Anyone from more than five miles down the road, or maybe sometimes 500 meters, is an outsider,” Ryan said.
The WHO official also said that “at least 21” armed militia groups remained active around the regions hit hardest by the epidemic, and that those groups are often manipulated by politicians for their own ends.
“There is a lot of political gaming going on in this part of the world – government and opposition and others. And this needs to stop,” Ryan told Reuters.
In Butembo, a northern DRC town that has been at the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, resident Christine Masika told The Guardian that corruption by health care workers has also been an obstacle to stopping the outbreak.
“Some of the health workers, instead of eradicating the disease, are just filling their pockets,” she told the paper. The outbreak has also helped create jobs, as drivers for response teams and other health-related positions.
“I’ve friends who have had the chance to work at the (health) center,” student Kambale James told The Guardian. “They don’t want to go back to (their previous) work. I wonder if they will want this virus to finish.”