Ebola in a war zone: what could go wrong?

A few days after skipping out on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ebola decided, ‘nah,’ cropping back up in a town of around 60,000 potential carriers called Mangina, located in Congo’s North Kivu province. Since the latest outbreak was identified, four people have died of the hemorrhagic fever. The World Health Organization is hoping that the strain of Ebola that’s shown up in North Kivu province is the same as the one that Congolese health workers and an international team of medical professionals were able to put down, this past July: they have a vaccine for that particular strain and it works fabulously. The WHO plans on giving the vaccine a go with this new outbreak—fingers crossed! Unfortunately, in addition to the possibility that the vaccine might not work for this Ebola outbreak, those tasked with stemming the spread of the disease are facing a threat that doesn’t involve contracting a virus: Working in an active war zone.

From The New York Times:

But North Kivu Province, the volatile region in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the new outbreak is centered, creates security complications that health officials did not confront in the outbreak they just defeated in northwest Équateur Province, 1,550 miles away. The World Health Organization is worried about the safety of medical workers in North Kivu and their access to areas controlled by militants.

“This new cluster is occurring in an environment which is very different from where we were operating in the northwest,” said Dr. Peter Salama, the deputy director general of the health agency and the head of its emergency response unit. “This is an active conflict zone. The major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population.”

According to The Times, 15 United Nations Peacekeepers were killed in the region last year and, thanks to the region’s proximity to Rwanda and Uganda, is full of over one million refugees that fled into Congo to escape war in their home countries. That the refugees are on the move, looking for a safe place, could deeply complicate how healthcare officials keep the disease from spreading. Put the refugees into camps, you say? That’s a problem, too: Ebola is spread via bodily fluids. In close quarters of a refugee camp, containment of the disease, especially considering how hard it can be to detect in its initial stages, could be close to impossible.

It’s bleak stuff, but the Congolese and The WHO are doing what they can. Discussions with Congo’s northern neighbors are on going right now, as the nations look for ways that they can work together to help stem the spread of the disease. More than this, as healthcare pros just finished off with the last outbreak, on the other side of the country, all of the hardware and manpower required to take a run at beating Ebola into submission, this time around, are close by and ready to be leveraged.

For the sake of everyone involved, hopefully, it’ll be enough.

Image via Wikipedia Commons

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