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A mother and her child sit inside the malnutrition ward of the UNICEF supported "Heal Africa" project in Goma.
John Wessels/UNICEF
Health

Tackling Hunger Could Also Help Fight Ebola in the Congo, Aid Groups Say

By Nellie Peyton

DAKAR, April 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Giving more food aid in Ebola-struck parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo could help stop the spread of the second-biggest outbreak in history, aid agencies said on Wednesday.

Food shortages are longstanding problem in the central African country, where about 13 million people, or 15% of the population, did not have enough to eat last year, according to the international food security tracking system IPC.

Public mistrust is a major obstacle to stopping the epidemic, which has infected more than 1,300 people and killed 880 in eastern Congo since July, with many refusing vaccines and resisting treatment, while medical centres have been attacked.

"People receiving food are found to be more willing to cooperate in registration, vaccination and treatment," said Claude Jibidar, the World Food Programme's country director.

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Delivering food to families that might have been exposed to Ebola also helps prevent the disease's spread by keeping people at home instead of in markets and public places, he said.

The world's worst epidemic of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever, killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

Congo's Ebola outbreak is spreading at its fastest rate yet, with a record number of new cases in recent weeks as militia violence and community suspicion have impeded access, with many deaths occuring outside of treatment centres.

Providing greater support for people affected by violence in the area — where about one million are displaced due to years of conflict - could make them more willing to seek Ebola services, said Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) charity.

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"It is very unlikely for somebody who is without shelter, without food, without education for their children ... to run and go get treatment when their basic needs were never addressed," said Kimberly Bennett, a spokeswoman for NRC.

Worsening violence and poor rains have contributed to a rise in hunger in parts of North Kivu province — one of the areas hard-hit by Ebola — said the NRC, particularly among displaced families and those hosting them.

People infected or suspected of Ebola infection have also been forced to abandon their work when they are quarantined to prevent transmission of the disease, it said.

(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)