The spread of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) appears to be accelerating with more than 2,000 cases recorded, two-thirds of them fatal, according to government figures, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The number of confirmed cases reached the milestone three times as quickly as it took to reach 1,000, experts said on Tuesday.
Eastern DRC is now in the midst of the second-worst outbreak of the disease in history. Attacks by rebel groups have complicated health workers’ efforts to contain it.
In Beni, 16 people were killed in clashes with suspected Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, 13 of them civilians, an official said on Tuesday.
Militia attacks have hindered treatment and complicated the United Nations‘s response to the crisis. Local mistrust of health workers has also contributed to an acceleration of the spread of Ebola.
“Without access to communities, we can’t vaccinate those at risk,” Tedros Adhanom from the WHO wrote on Twitter.
“But we are determined that we can and will end this outbreak,” he added.
We have now passed 2000 #Ebola cases in #DRC. Insecurity continues to hamper the response. Without access to communities, we can’t vaccinate those at risk, treat those infected or trace contacts. But we are determined that we can & will end this outbreak. pic.twitter.com/MpHqYXLvaE
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) June 4, 2019
The outbreak reached 1,000 cases in March, more than seven months after it was first detected in August last year.
It took less than three more months to reach 2,000, according to the DRC’s health ministry. More than 1,300 people have died.
Responders face twin obstacles: resistance from communities who believe that Ebola is a conspiracy made up by aid agencies and the government, and from armed groups seeking to stoke instability for their own gain.
“The current response to tackle Ebola isn’t working,” Corinne N’Daw, Oxfam’s country director in Congo told Reuters.
“No matter how effective treatment is, if people don’t trust or understand it, they will not use it.”
The 2,000 figure is a “sad and frustrating milestone … the insecurity is holding us back,” said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.
A mob killed an Ebola health worker and looted a clinic in the village of Vusahiro earlier this month.
Between January and early May, there were 42 attacks on health facilities, with 85 workers either injured or killed, according to WHO figures from May 3.
“Every time there is an incident … we are not able to provide services and go into communities. We are not able to vaccinate, not able to treat those who are ill, we are not able to follow up on those who may have been exposed to the virus,” Jasarevic said.
The ADF fighting in Beni happened on Monday night, interim town Mayor Bakwanamaha Modeste told DPA news agency.
“We regret the death of 13 civilians and two military personnel,” he said, adding that a rebel was also killed.
The incident comes a few days after the Congolese army said they had killed 26 ADF members in the same region.
The ADF is one of the numerous rebel groups that are active in eastern Congo, primarily fighting over the area’s rich mineral resources.
The rebel group frequently launches attacks on civilians but recently has been responsible for attacks on United Nations peacekeepers as well.