An Ebola epidemic in a conflict-riven region of Democratic Republic of Congo is out of control and could become as serious as the outbreak that devastated three countries in west Africa between 2013 and 2016, experts and aid chiefs have warned.
New cases over the past month have increased at the fastest rate since the outbreak began last year, as aid agencies struggle to enact a public health response in areas that have suffered decades of neglect and conflict, with incredibly fragile health systems and regular outbreaks of deadly violence involving armed groups.
“I’m very concerned – as concerned as one can be,” said Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust, who called for a ceasefire to allow health teams to reach the sick and protect others in the community.
“Whether it gets to the absolute scale of west Africa or not, none of us know, but this is massive in comparison with any other outbreak in the history of Ebola and it is still expanding. It’s remarkable it hasn’t spread more geographically but the numbers are frightening and the fact that they are going up is terrifying.”
A six- to nine-month ceasefire, brokered by the UN, the Red Cross or similar bodies, is vital to stopping the spread, he said. “There was violence in west Africa, in Freetown and Monrovia, but this is on a different scale and it is coming from multiple sources.”Advertisement
More than 1,600 people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the North Kivu region of DRC and more than 1,000 have died so far – the great majority women and children. At least 10 months since the outbreak began, the numbers are rising steadily and the fatality rate is higher than in previous outbreaks, at about 67%.