Less than a month after an Ebola outbreak was declared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a case has been confirmed in an eastern town that is surrounded by conflict, according to NPR.
The Ministry of Health of the DRC declared the outbreak in North Kivu Province on Aug. 1. Since then, there have been 83 confirmed and 28 probable cases of Ebola. Of those, there have been 75 deaths linked to the devastating disease (47 confirmed, 28 probable).
But what’s especially concerning is the case that surfaced last week in Oicha, an eastern town that is surrounded by the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed insurgent militia.
Just weeks ago, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), pleaded for a break in armed conflict in the DRC, stating that such conditions make it difficult to tackle an Ebola outbreak.
“We call on the warring parties for a cessation of hostilities because the virus is dangerous to all. It doesn’t choose between this group and that group,” Dr. Tedros said at a press conference, following his visit to the DRC.
The case in Oicha is the first to be confirmed in such a dangerous region of the country — a region that will present great challenges to health workers attempting to reach people in need.
“The night we were there, there was an attack on civilians — about 20 kilometers [about 12 miles] from where we were staying,” Dr. Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director general of emergency preparedness and response, told NPR. “And at least four or five people were murdered.”
Conflict often plays a role in limiting health care workers’ ability to reach people in need of vaccines and treatment. Dr. Tedros also warned that high population density and movement between borders add additional concerns of the virus spreading.
In this area in particular, Salama said that there are at least 20 armed rebel groups — groups that have kidnapped and killed humanitarian workers before, according to NPR.
Before now, the Ebola cases were in places that were accessible to health workers, who were working to quickly contain the outbreak using ring vaccination. The new Ebola vaccine, was proven safe and effective in 2016 but is not yet licensed, according to Reuters.