WHO extremely concerned about Ebola 'perfect storm' in Congo

GENEVA, Sept 25 (Reuters) - The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that an Ebola outbreak in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo could worsen rapidly because of attacks by armed groups, community resistance and the geographic spread of the disease.

"We are now extremely concerned that several factors may be coming together over the next weeks and months to create a potential perfect storm," WHO's head of emergency response Peter Salama told a news conference in Geneva.

At least 100 people have died in the outbreak, out of 150 cases in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

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Ebola outbreak in Congo
Children attend a class session at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials arrange the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A teacher leads a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese child washes her hands as a preventive measure against Ebola at the Church of Christ in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A vendor calls for clients as she holds smoked monkey meat and a variety of bush meat at an open-air market during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A child attends a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of passengers disembarking from a Congo Airways plane in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Equipment and apparatus are seen inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) workers prepare a centre for vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker prepares to administer a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A general view shows equipment and apparatus inside the laboratory of the National Institute for Biomedical Research (INRB) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Patients seeking medical attention sit at the health centre in the commune of Wangata, during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
People and traffic are seen along a street in Ngaba commune of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Medical workers are seen at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker instructs residents about washing their hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Children attend a class at the Wangata commune school during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A laboratory worker uses a microscope at the health centre in the commune of Wangata during a vaccination campaign against the outbreak of Ebola, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese women row their boats on the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese woman carries a snake for food at the shores of the Congo River during the vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in the port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese health worker records medical data of passengers at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
World Health Organization (WHO) medical supplies to combat the Ebola virus are seen packed in crates at the airport in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
A Congolese man washes his hands as a preventive measure against Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
Packaged Ebola-response materials wait to be transported to the Democratic Republic of Congo in this May 16, 2018 picture obtained from social media video, in Brussels, Belgium. DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS/MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES (MSF)/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
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The response was at a critical juncture, and although the weekly number of new cases has fallen from about 40 to about 10 in the past few weeks and more than 11,700 people have been vaccinated, there were major obstacles ahead, Salama said.

Attacks by armed opposition groups had increased in severity and frequency, especially those attributed to the Alliance of Democratic Forces, most dramatically an attack that killed 21 in the city of Beni, where WHO's operation is based.

The city has declared a "ville morte," a period of mourning until at least Friday, obliging WHO to suspend its operations.

On Monday 80 percent of Ebola contacts -- people at risk of developing the disease and so requiring monitoring -- and three suspected cases in and around Beni could not be reached for disease monitoring.

 

EXPLOITATION

Pockets of "reluctance, refusal and resistance" to accept Ebola vaccination were generating many of the new cases, Salama said.

"We also see a very concerning trend. That resistance, driven by quite natural fear of this terrifying disease, is starting to be exploited by local politicians, and we're very concerned in the run up to elections, projected for December, that that exploitation... will gather momentum and make it very difficult to root out the last cases of Ebola."

Some people were fleeing into the forest to escape Ebola follow-up treatment and checks, sometimes moving hundreds of kilometers, he said.

There was one such case to the south of Beni, and another to the north, close to the riverbanks of Lake Albert. Both were inaccessible for security reasons.

Neighboring Uganda was now facing an "imminent threat," and social media posts were conflating Ebola with criticism of the DRC government and the United Nations and "a range of conspiracy theories," which could put healthworkers at risk.

"We will not yet consider the need to evacuate but we are developing a range of contingency plans to see where our staff are best located," he said.

"If WHO and its partners had to leave North Kivu ... we would have grave concerns that this outbreak would not be able to be well controlled in the coming weeks or months." (Reporting by Tom Miles, Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)

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