Battle to combat Ebola outbreak in the Congo ‘is failing’ as death toll passes 1,200 mark and damning figures show 100 people a week are catching the killer virus
- The Ebola epidemic in the central African nation is getting worse by the month
- Health workers are refusing to wear protective gear out of fear of being attacked
- Families are angry they cannot bury their dead relatives in traditional manners
- Around one in every four deaths recorded has happened in the past three weeks
The bid to stop combat Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo is failing as the outbreak shows signs of spiralling out of control, experts have warned.
Grieving locals are angry they can’t have normal funerals for dead family members because victims have to be buried by well-protected medical workers.
Disrupting traditions is turning people against aid efforts and more than 100 new cases of Ebola are now being diagnosed every week, figures show.
More than 1,200 people have died in the outbreak since it began in August, with 337 of those deaths – a quarter of the total – in the first three weeks of May alone.
Experts said the World Health Organization needs to up its game in the fight against the devastating virus.
But the UN’s health agency faces ever-evolving obstacles to helping people – last week’s situation report revealed even healthcare workers are refusing to wear proper protection when in medical camps.
The Ebola number of cases diagnosed each week has rocketed in recent weeks, rising from around 30 per week on average in January to more than 100 in May
The Ebola epidemic in Democratic Republic of the Congo started in August and has since infected more than 1,800 people and killed 1,218 (Pictured: An Ebola patient is carried by medical workers in Butembo)
‘The current approach to the Ebola epidemic in DRC is failing to control and contain the spread of the disease,’ said Whitney Elmer, a director of the non-governmental organisation Mercy Corps.
‘Over the past few weeks we’ve heard time and again that the response needs a rethink – now with over 100 new Ebola cases a week, it is time for a change in approach.’
Mercy Corps wants the WHO to activate its Scale-Up Protocol for the Control of Infectious Disease (IASC).
This would effectively mean the WHO taking control of the situation and pumping in more aid workers and supplies from other countries and organisations.
For an IASC protocol to be triggered, a situation must be deemed to be having a serious public health impact and a significant risk of international spread.
The United Nations yesterday announced it had stepped up its fight against the disease, appointing an emergency Ebola response coordinator for the country.
The coordinator, David Gressly, is a special representative of the UN’s secretary general, and will work to boost the political and governmental response to the outbreak.
UN staff will provide water and sanitation services as well as financial planning for the battle.
A lack of trust for health workers among people living in the region affected by the epidemic has been an ongoing problem in stopping the spread of the disease.
And locals are angry they can’t bury their relatives in the traditional manner, which would involve having the dead person’s body in their house and touching it before the family choose and dig a grave site.
Ebola patients’ families have to watch from a distance while medical workers bury the coffin in an already-dug grave.
Families are angry they can’t bury their relatives traditionally – funerals would normally have an open coffin at the deceased’s home and the family would choose and dig a grave (Pictured: People during the burial of four Ebola victims together in Butembo. Health workers were stoned and attacked by locals during the burials)
Ebola victims have to be buried by medical workers wearing protective equipment because the virus can spread after death – the family must watch from a distance (Pictured: A burial in Butembo)
Tradition usually allows people to touch a dead relative at the wake while they are mourning, but health workers are preventing this to stop the spread of Ebola (Pictured: Burials in Butembo)
Seros Muyisa Kamathe, a guide and interpreter in DRC said: ‘The custom is that the body of the deceased first returns to the home.
‘And once people have mourned, they have the chance to touch the body for the last time.
‘Before going to the cemetery, you open the coffin so people can take one last look at the deceased.’
As well as opposition among victims and their families, even health workers are frustrating efforts to contain the virus.
In its most recent report, the World Health Organization said medics may be avoiding full protective gear for fear of being targeted by attackers.
Health workers at Ebola treatment centres have been refusing to wear full protective clothing (pictured) because they are afraid of being recognised and attacked by local people who think the disease is a government hoax
More than 100 people per week are now infected with the deadly virus, which kills around two thirds of people who catch it (Pictured: A family of suspected Ebola patients)
The report said: ‘Another particularly concerning development is that some healthcare workers are refusing to wear personal protective equipment and clothing in healthcare facilities, and performing only normal infection prevention and control measures due to threats of violence by members of the community.’
The numbers of new Ebola cases diagnosed on a weekly basis has skyrocketed in recent months.
In January an average of 31.6 cases were diagnosed each week, whereas so far in May this figure has more than trebled to 112.3.
The overall death toll has almost doubled in three months from 569 at the end of March to 1,130 confirmed last week – the epidemic has been going on for 10 months.
WHAT IS EBOLA AND HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever, killed at least 11,000 across the world after it decimated West Africa and spread rapidly over the space of two years.
That epidemic was officially declared over back in January 2016, when Liberia was announced to be Ebola-free by the WHO.
The country, rocked by back-to-back civil wars that ended in 2003, was hit the hardest by the fever, with 40 per cent of the deaths having occurred there.
Sierra Leone reported the highest number of Ebola cases, with nearly of all those infected having been residents of the nation.
WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
An analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the outbreak began in Guinea – which neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A team of international researchers were able to trace the epidemic back to a two-year-old boy in Meliandou – about 400 miles (650km) from the capital, Conakry.
Emile Ouamouno, known more commonly as Patient Zero, may have contracted the deadly virus by playing with bats in a hollow tree, a study suggested.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE STRUCK DOWN?
Figures show nearly 29,000 people were infected from Ebola – meaning the virus killed around 40 per cent of those it struck.
Cases and deaths were also reported in Nigeria, Mali and the US – but on a much smaller scale, with 15 fatalities between the three nations.
Health officials in Guinea reported a mysterious bug in the south-eastern regions of the country before the WHO confirmed it was Ebola.
Ebola was first identified by scientists in 1976, but the most recent outbreak dwarfed all other ones recorded in history, figures show.
HOW DID HUMANS CONTRACT THE VIRUS?
Scientists believe Ebola is most often passed to humans by fruit bats, but antelope, porcupines, gorillas and chimpanzees could also be to blame.
It can be transmitted between humans through blood, secretions and other bodily fluids of people – and surfaces – that have been infected.
IS THERE A TREATMENT?
The WHO warns that there is ‘no proven treatment’ for Ebola – but dozens of drugs and jabs are being tested in case of a similarly devastating outbreak.
Hope exists though, after an experimental vaccine, called rVSV-ZEBOV, protected nearly 6,000 people. The results were published in The Lancet journal.
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