The WHO director-general visited the Democratic Republic of Congo for a three-day mission during the Ebola outbreak and mounting insecurity in the country.
By Juliette Owen-Jones
Rabat – The World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited Ebola-affected areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo for a three-day mission over the new year.
According to WHO, Ghebreyesus “took stock of the outbreak, spent time with affected communities, and personally thanked responders for their dedication.”
His visit comes amid a large Ebola outbreak, which began in August 2018 and continues to worsen. According to the country’s Ministry of Health, as of Wednesday, the total estimated number of patients is 608, with 368 deaths.
Ghebreyesus visited Beni, Butembo, and Komanda, the areas worst affected by the outbreak. Not only are the areas suffering the most from the public health crisis but also from rising civil unrest. According to WHO, there are currently 50 armed groups in the DRC causing violence.
Civil unrest adds additional risk
With a long-awaited election held December 30, the government shut down the internet and SMS communication. A senior advisor to the president, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, told Reuters that the decision was to made to “preserve public order” and prevent “fictitious results.” The shutdown stirred controversy and led to protests.
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Protestors violently attacked an Ebola clinic in Beni, angered by the government’s decision to postpone the election until March in Ebola-affected areas such as Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi. Opposition supporters believe the decision was a deliberate move made by the current government to disenfranchise them during this critical period.
The UN public health agency also estimates that more than a million refugees and displaced people are traveling through the country, and this movement is a potential risk factor for Ebola to spread further.
After seeing the epidemic firsthand, Ghebreyesus expressed his concern over “the impact of the recent disruptions at this critical moment. This outbreak is occurring in the most difficult context imaginable.”
He added that for the crisis to be resolved, “The response needs to be supported and expanded, not further complicated. Ebola is unforgiving, and disruptions give the virus the advantage.”
In June, the Moroccan Ministry of Health undertook measures to prevent Ebola from reaching the country. The ministry said it was closely monitoring the outbreak in DRC and had installed thermal imaging cameras at Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health strengthened diagnostic methods and management procedures for suspected cases of Ebola by giving Casablanca’s Institut Pasteur diagnostic laboratory equipment.