At least 680 people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s the second largest Ebola outbreak in history with 414 deaths so far, and the first Ebola outbreak in an active war zone, DRC’s eastern North Kivu and Ituri provinces.
But it could get worse: Health officials are concerned that Ebola appears to be spreading in the direction of Goma, a major population center in DRC.
Last week, DRC’s health ministry confirmed four cases of the deadly virus in Kayina, a town in North Kivu, where fighting among rebel and militia groups has repeatedly interrupted the painstaking work of health workers who are responding to the outbreak.
Kayina happens to be halfway between Butembo, currently one of the outbreak’s most worrisome hotspots, and Goma, where a million people live. Two of the patients died, and two were traveling to Goma when they were picked up at a checkpoint en route and sent back to Kayina for treatment.
So far, the outbreak has not affected DRC’s biggest cities. But Ebola in Kayina “raises the alarm” for Ebola reaching Goma, Peter Salama, the head of the new Health Emergencies Program at the World Health Organization, told Vox on Friday.
Goma is a major transportation hub, with roads and highways that lead to Rwanda. “These are crossroad cities and market towns,” Salama added. People there are constantly on the move doing business, and also because of the insecurity in North Kivu. Ebola in Goma is a nightmare scenario WHO and DRC’s health ministry is scrambling to prevent.
Together, they’ve deployed a rapid response team, including a vaccination team, to Kayina. And if the virus moves on to Goma, Salama says Ebola responders are ready. They’ve already mobilized teams there, set up a lab, and prepared health centers where sick people can be cared for in isolation.
But as Ebola expert Laurie Garrett wrote in Foreign Policy last week, Ebola in Goma could also trigger a rare global public health emergency declaration by WHO, escalating the severity of an already dangerous outbreak…
But though the political instability isn’t making the Ebola response any easier, the war in Congo’s eastern provinces is a far bigger challenge. The 25-year-long conflict has displaced more than a million people, and made the already dangerous work of an Ebola response even more deadly, Autesserre said.
Between August and November, Beni had experienced more than 20 violent attacks, which put the outbreak response there on pause for days at a time. That meant cases had gone uncounted, and Ebola continued to spread…
As of Friday, the two biggest hotspots in the outbreak were Butembo, with 51 cases, and a neighboring city, Katwa, with 119 cases. But the outbreak is geographically dispersed. There are active Ebola cases “in 12 of the country’s health zones,” the districts around which the DRC’s health system is organized. Because of the insecurity and difficulty reaching people, only 30 to 40 percent are coming from known contact lists, Salama said. That means the virus might already be in places no one’s discovered yet.
Deadly pestilence has been predicted to manifest itself in the last days and destroy thousands of people. Ebola’s current manifestation isn’t anything like the Bible’s predictions.
And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven. Luke 21:11.