(JOHANNESBURG) — Health teams responding to Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak are attacked three or four times a week on average, a level of violence unseen in the country’s nine previous outbreaks of the deadly virus, the health ministry said Monday.
The coordinator of the outbreak response, Dr. Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, spoke to reporters after a weekend marked by deadly rebel attacks and violent protests that suspended Ebola containment efforts in the epicenter of the outbreak.
In one attack, two health agents with Congo’s military were killed by rebels in the first such deaths since the outbreak was declared Aug. 1. The next day, residents of Beni protested another rebel attack that killed 15 civilians by pelting aid groups’ vehicles with stones.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “outraged” by the violence against health workers and is calling on all armed groups to immediately stop attacks, his spokesman said Monday.
The number of confirmed Ebola cases in this outbreak is now 203, including 120 deaths. The virus is spread by contact with bodily fluids of those infected, including the dead.
Each suspension of Ebola containment work affects both vaccinations and the tracking of contacts of infected people. A deadly rebel attack late last month in Beni, the outbreak’s epicenter, forced work to stop for days while angry residents traumatized for years by conflict brought the community to a standstill.
Since then many of the new Ebola cases have been in Beni, while aid groups have expressed alarm that the number of new cases overall more than doubled since the start of this month. In the week ending Sunday, 19 of the outbreak’s 22 new cases were in Beni.
This is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in Congo’s far northeast, where multiple rebel groups are active. Resistance by wary communities has been a major concern, with infected people slipping away and safe burials a flashpoint as families bristle at outsiders telling them how to say goodbye to loved ones.
Bathe told reporters he regretted that some community members were putting themselves in danger.
One group of youths in Beni recently stole the body of an Ebola victim on the way to the cemetery with the family’s consent, he said. After touching the corpse, one of the youths became infected and died.