In the midst of an Ebola outbreak, health workers operating in the Congo are being attacked on a near-weekly basis. The current level of violence against aid workers has not been seen before, even though the country has experienced nine previous outbreaks of the virus.
Speaking to reporters on October 22nd, the coordinator of the outbreak response said the past weekend was marked by a number of deadly attacks from rebel forces. According to Dr Ndjoloko Tambwe Bathe, the rebel attacks, combined with violent protests, have resulted in Ebola containment efforts being temporarily halted. Making matters worse is the fact that the attacks are taking place at the epicentre of the current outbreak.
One rebel attack targeted two health agents working with the Congo military. Both health workers were killed. They were the first health workers to be killed since the outbreak was declared on August 1st. This attack was followed by another attack that killed 15 civilians. Residents of Beni then took to the streets in protest against the killings, pelting aid workers’ vehicles with stones.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "outraged" by the violence against health workers. According to his spokesperson, he has called on all armed groups to immediately stop the attacks.
So far, the latest outbreak has seen 203 confirmed cases of the virus, resulting in 120 deaths. One of the factors making the virus so dangerous is that it can be caught through contact with bodily fluids, from the living or dead.
Every time the Ebola work is halted, albeit temporarily, the efforts of vaccinating and tracking the contacts of those who have come into contact with the virus is hampered.
According to AP, this is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in Congo's far northeast. This is also an area where multiple rebel groups are active. Resistance against treatment by wary communities has been another major concern, with infected people slipping away. Safe burials have become a flashpoint as families bristle at outsiders telling them how to say goodbye to loved ones.