The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Tuesday that armed conflict, public distrust of global aid workers and political maneuvering may combine into a “perfect storm” that undermines the massive response to Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
WHO’s emergencies director, Peter Salama, said the response is showing progress overall, with 10 cases per week in the affected region compared to 40 per week at the start of the outbreak in August.
However, a rebel attack on the WHO’s base town of Beni suspended critical response operations through Friday.
“That means this entire week we may have cases that become more symptomatic and become more infectious that we’re unable to respond to,” Dr. Salama said, noting they were unable to reach three suspected cases around Beni on Monday.
Typically, they can reach a potentially infected patient within 24 hours.
So far, the outbreak in North Kivu province has been linked to 150 cases and 100 deaths.
The outbreak is unfolding in a region marked by armed conflict between insurgent groups and the government.
Dr. Salama said politicians eyeing an upcoming DRC election are making things worse, as opposition parties accuse the army and central government of failing to repel the attacks.
By extension, locals begin to look askance at the governmental Ebola response, and allies like WHO feel that skepticism, too.
Any response to Ebola is marked by suspicion vaccines and outsiders, and those fears have been exacerbated at times by social media posts, Dr. Salama said.
Meanwhile, the rebel attack on Beni killed 14 civilians over the weekend, forcing multiple groups to suspend operations during a week of mourning and protest.
“As the days go on, if we do see unsafe burials that we can’t be responded to if we do see symptomatic people that can’t be accessed, we can see this situation deteriorating very quickly, which is why there is the real potentiation for a perfect storm in the coming days and weeks,” Dr. Salama said.