Death toll tops 1,000 in Congo Ebola outbreak

(AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro, File)

More than 1,000 people have died from an Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that started in August, the country’s health minister said Friday, as attacks on treatment centers and health workers undermine efforts to contain the disease.

Health Minister Oly Ilunga told The Associated Press that four deaths in the outbreak’s epicenter of Katwa helped push the death toll to 1,008. Two more deaths were reported in Butembo.

The outbreak that was declared in eastern Congo in August is already the second deadliest in history, and efforts to control it have been complicated by a volatile security situation and deep community mistrust in eastern Congo.

Ebola treatment centers have come under repeated attack, and a Cameroonian epidemiologist working with WHO was killed last month during an assault on a hospital in Butembo city at the outbreak’s epicenter. Another attack on Thursday in Butembo was repelled, said Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief.

Insecurity has become a “major impediment” to efforts to control the Ebola outbreak, Ryan told reporters in Geneva earlier Friday.

He said 119 attacks have been recorded since January, 42 of them directly against health facilities, with 85 health workers wounded or killed. Dozens of rebel groups operate in the region, and community rejection of health workers has been driven in part by political rivalries, he said.

“Every time we have managed to regain control over the virus and contain its spread, we have suffered major, major security events,” Ryan said. “We are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission” of the disease.

The 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa’s Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia brought worldwide attention as it killed more than 11,000 people.

WHO has maintained that this Ebola outbreak is geographically contained even as the number of cases rises in a dense, highly mobile population near the border with Uganda and Rwanda.

More than 109,000 people have received an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine and Ryan said authorities are looking at potentially introducing another one.

He also said funding for Ebola containment efforts faces an “urgent, critical gap” of some $54 million, and he called for more help from Congo and the world.

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Al-hadji Kudra Maliro in Kampala, Uganda contributed to this report.

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