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Dr. Alhassane Toure vaccinates a health worker at a health centre in the city of Mbandaka
WHO/Lindsay Mackenzie
Health

Congo's Worst Ebola Outbreak Risks Spreading — and Women Are the Most Affected


Why Global Citizens Should Care 
On average, Ebola kills about half of the people it infects. Diseases like Ebola are deadlier in impoverished areas that lack access to health resources, which makes it important to rapidly mobilize resources to contain the spread to the disease. You can help by taking action here

Over 420 people are currently suffering from Ebola in what has become the Democratic Republic of Congo’s worst outbreak in history, the Hill reports

So far more than 245 people have been killed, which exceeds the county’s death toll during the ebola outbreak of 2013, the worst recorded outbreak in the region, which ultimately killed more than 11,000 people across several countries in West Africa.  

"This is a milestone nobody wanted to hit," said Tarik Jasarevic, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson.

Take Action: Stand With Every Woman, Every Child: Ask World Leaders to End Preventable Deaths

Women are suffering the most during this outbreak, making up 60% of new cases, a gender disparity that has puzzled epidemiologists are still trying to figure out why this epidemic is affecting more women.

“So now we can only guess,” said Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, the government’s regional health coordinator.  “And one of the guesses is that woman are the caretakers of sick people at home. So if a family member got sick, who is taking care of him or her? Normally, a woman.”

The outbreak has been infecting the community’s children as well. The youngest to be infected has been a 6-day-old baby whose mother had also contracted the disease. Baby Bénédicte, who has been nicknamed “young miracle”  because of her amazing recovery, was discharged from the hospital Friday. Her mother, however, died in childbirth. 

Unlike Congo’s nine previous outbreaks, this one is happening amid a civil war and militia violence.

The outbreak is worsened by the fact that many citizens distrust government workers and foreigners, including health care officials according to the Washington Post. Further, attacks from military groups on health workers and response teams have made it difficult to treat people that have contracted Ebola. Responders have also been refused entry to areas, assaulted, and caught in the crossfire of militia conflict. Health workers regularly wear bulletproof helmets and vests to protect themselves.

Read More: The First Round of Ebola Vaccines Has Arrived in the Congo

"The expression of reluctance by the community is more violent than the reluctance usually observed during previous Ebola outbreaks," said Oly Ilunga Kalenga the DRC's minister of health in a press conference. "A minority of the population in these areas express their reluctance through the regular destruction of medical equipment and health centers as well as the physical attacks of health workers."

In order to help treat at least 20% of Ebola-affected areas, health workers need armed police or UN escorts, said Michel Yao, the WHO’s response coordinator in Beni.

Officials worry that, unless action is taken rapidly, the disease will spread to other neighboring countries including Uganda, Rwanda, and South Sudan.

Symptoms of Ebola include fever, severe headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, vomiting, hemorrhaging, and diarrhea, according to the CDC. On average, Ebola kills about half of the people it infects.