New cases of deadly Ebola virus have been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) city of Butembo, near the Ugandan border, where it has claimed three lives.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said they have stepped up community-based efforts to tackle the Ebola disease in the eastern DRC.
WHO said there were 137 confirmed and probable cases and 92 deaths in the latest outbreak in the east of the country, while UNICEF, announced that “everything is being done” to ensure that the disease in controlled in Butembo “at this early stage”.
Apart from widespread insecurity, one of the biggest challenges is overcoming communities’ hostility to strict health directives, that go against centuries-old cultural traditions, including burial practices.
UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said: “I remember when I was going in West Africa a few years ago during the Ebola (outbreak) how dangerous it was to go to some villages.
“We know, based on our experience and our work, that it should never be underestimated, this community resistance. And it’s an incentive to work at a more deeper level.
It’s an incentive to understand more accurately what people feel and why…What are the cultural beliefs?”
He added that it was important to respond on that level, using agents of change, using people who have some influence in the community.
In a bid to help protect communities, UNICEF said it has dispatched a team of 11 specialists in community communication, education and psycho-social assistance, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene.
The UN agency said it was also working with anthropologists specialising in local cultural beliefs and practices to help overcome possible concerns.
“If we don’t do that, this resistance can really increase and can really cause serious obstacles to the fight against the disease. It’s about knowing the people to whom we are talking,” Boulierac said.
More than 250 community leaders have also been alerted about the outbreak in Butembo, along with religious leaders and journalists, about prevention measures and an emergency number to call to treat anyone with Ebola-like symptoms.
The current Ebola outbreak in the Kivus region, officially declared on Aug. 1, is DRC’s 10th since 1976, and more than 1,750 people are under active surveillance, according to WHO, and more than 52 vaccination “rings” have been set up around known Ebola patients.
WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said: “Working with the communities, alerting them, informing them, and getting them to treat Ebola cases or suspected Ebola cases in the right way, is the challenge”.
In total, more than 8,900 people have been vaccinated, including more than 2,000 children. Treating the sick and protecting people who have come into contact with them is complicated, because the vast Kivus area is home to more than 100 armed groups.
The last Ebola outbreak in DRC was some 2,000 miles away, to the west, in Equateur province, which includes the Congo River. It was declared over in July after claiming 33 lives.