Four members of Ebola response teams in eastern Congo have been killed in two attacks that the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted will undermine efforts to contain the haemorrhagic fever epidemic in the African country.
There had only been seven Ebola cases in the last week, down from a peak of more than 120 per week in April, the WHO said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
‘Ebola was retreating. These attacks will give it force again, and more people will die as a consequence,’ WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. ‘We call on everyone who has a role to play to end this cycle of violence.’ The two attacks during Tuesday night targeted a residential camp in Biakato Mines and an Ebola response coordination office in Mangina, a farming village where the Ebola outbreak started more than a year ago.
It was not immediately clear who the attackers were. There are numerous rebel groups operating in eastern Congo, which have complicated efforts to curb the spread of the disease, as has a local population suspicious of health workers.
Those killed in the attacks included a member of a vaccination team, two drivers and a police officer, the WHO said. None of its staff members were among the dead.
‘We are heartbroken that people have died in the line of duty as they worked to save others,’ Tedros said. ‘The world has lost brave professionals.’ Five people were also injured in the attacks, including one WHO employee and staff from the Congo Ministry of Health.
‘We are doing everything possible to bring the injured and front-line workers in the impacted areas to safety,’ WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.
In Mangina, one militiaman was killed by security forces, Miphy Bwata of the Congo Health Ministry's communication office told dpa.
Ebola has infected more than 3,300 and killed nearly 2,200 people in Congo's volatile east, according to authorities.
The WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency in July, after the disease spread to Goma, a major urban centre near the border with Rwanda.
The organization has more than 800 staff on the ground supporting the government-led response together with national and international partners.
More than 255,000 people in Congo have received Ebola vaccines as part of the efforts to contain the virus.