Date: Tue, 21 May 2019 05:22:30 +0200
By John WESSELS with Samir TOUNSI in Kinshasa

Butembo, DR Congo, May 21, 2019 (AFP) - People in Ebola-hit eastern DR Congo are struggling to come to terms with high-security burials that are part of a hard-pressed strategy to roll back the disease.   Anyone who dies of the highly infectious haemorrhagic fever has to be buried in carefully-controlled conditions designed to minimise the risk of infection from body fluids.   But that means ceremonies are carried out in sanitised conditions, with relatives and friends kept at a distance -- for many, a traumatic break with traditions that demand the body of a loved-one be seen or touched.   "We're astonished she's being buried like this," said Denise Kahambu as she watched the specially-prepared burial in Butembo of her 50-year-old cousin, Marie-Rose.   "They said she died of Ebola," she said sceptically.   First declared last August, the epidemic has now claimed nearly 1,200 lives -- 200 of them in May alone.    The outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa in 2014-16.

The burial in Butembo followed strict precautions. A pick-up truck delivered the coffin to the burial site, where a grave had been prepared, as the family stood by at a distance.   Gloved Red Cross workers handled the burial, which took place in silence and without a religious ceremony.   A family member or loved one was allowed only to place a cross on the tomb, once they too had donned protective gloves.   Half a dozen police officers escorted the convoy and remained on guard throughout.    On Friday, two burial teams from the treatment centres were attacked by stone-throwing crowds at Butembo and Bunia, a little further north in Ituri province, according to the health ministry. One burial worker was injured.

- Culture shock -
"The custom is that the body of the deceased first returns to the home. And once people have mourned, they have the chance to touch the body for the last time," said Seros Muyisa Kamathe, a guide and interpreter in Beni and Butembo.   "Before going to the cemetery, you open the coffin so people can take one last look at the deceased."

And normally it would be the family and neighbours who would take responsibility for digging the grave -- and deciding where if should be.   Ebola experts say denial and resistance were familiar obstacles in the 2014-16 epidemic in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.   The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 12-step protocol for dealing with burials so that handling of the remains is kept to a minimum, but it also emphasises the importance of respect and mourning.   "The burial process is very sensitive for the family and the community and can be the source of trouble or even open conflict," it acknowledges.    No burial should begin until family agreement has been obtained, and workers should engage with the community "for prayers to dissipate tensions
and provide respectful time," it says.

- Armed escorts -
The burial process is part of the notoriously time-consuming and labour-intensive task of combatting Ebola.   And in this troubled region, the challenge has been further complicated by bloody deadly attacks on Ebola treatment centres by local militias.   Suspicion, political infighting in the capital Kinshasa and militia violence provide a fertile breeding ground for the virus.   Sometimes local people cover the graves overnight as a sign of their opposition, the ministry said.   In Butembo, health workers need an armed escort when they go looking for cases of Ebola in some neighbourhoods, an AFP photographer noted during one outing Saturday evening.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the opening of the organisation's annual assembly on Monday, described the outbreak as "one of the most complex health emergencies any of us have ever faced."   "Unless we unite to end this outbreak we run the risk it will become more widespread and more expansive and more aggressive," he said.   "We are not just fighting a virus," Tedros insisted. "We're fighting insecurity. We're fighting violence. We're fighting misinformation... and we're fighting the politicisation of an outbreak."   On the plus side, health officials are keen to emphasise some important gains. More than 118,000 have been vaccinated against the virus, and no cases have been recorded in neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.
Date: Mon, 13 May 2019 13:10:47 +0200

Butembo, DR Congo, May 13, 2019 (AFP) - Police and soldiers repelled an attack on an Ebola treatment centre in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo overnight, killing one assailant, a government official said Monday.    The dead man was a member of the Mai-Mai rebel group, Sylvain Kanyamanda, the mayor of Butembo in the North Kivu province, told AFP.   "The security forces prevented the attackers from crossing a 40-metre (130-foot) perimeter" around the centre where Ebola patients were being treated.

North Kivu province is at the centre of a new outbreak of the viral disease which has killed more than 1,100 people since last August out of about 1,600 infected, according to the authorities. Among these, 99 health workers have been infected, and 34 have died.   The Ebola fightback in the region is hampered by the presence of warring armed groups, including the Mai-Mai, and by locals in denial who refuse treatment and ignore prevention advice.

Last week, the UN special representative to the DRC blasted rumours that the world body was trying to cash in on Ebola.   Leila Zerrougui, head of the UN mission to the sprawling central African nation, slammed as "sheer madness" local speculation that "there is no illness, that they want to poison us because they are trying to cash in on us."   The outbreak is the biggest on Congolese soil since the disease was first recorded in the country, then Zaire, in 1976.   An epidemic in 2014-16 killed 11,300 people in West Africa.
Date: Tue, 7 May 2019 20:40:21 +0200

Butembo, DR Congo, May 7, 2019 (AFP) - Medics facing suspicion and hostility as they fight an Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo fear their job might become even riskier after one of their vehicles was involved in a fatal crash.   The accident, in the town of Butembo, resulted in the death of the motorbike-taxi rider, sparking an angry response from his fellow riders, said a doctor at the town's hospital, Chrisostome Shako.   "A jeep used in the operation against Ebola accidentally hit the motorbike rider, who was killed. His colleagues threw rocks at the hospital when we were taking the body to the morgue," he told AFP.

The outpouring of fury led to all shops and commercial activity in the town grinding to a halt. Police said they deployed mixed patrols with soldiers to restore calm.   Shako said he feared the motorbike-taxi riders might start targeting the Ebola medics, undermining their ability to respond to the outbreak.   The Ebola epidemic in the Nord-Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo is the second-deadliest on record, with more than 1,000 deaths registered since August last year.

The medics' work has already been hampered since the weekend by an uptick in insecurity that has singled out the medical teams.   Efforts to roll back the outbreak of the haemorrhagic fever have also been slowed by resistance within communities to preventative measures, care facilities and safe burials.

DR Congo's health minister, Oly Ilunga, has warned that each time the teams are prevented doing their job there is a spike in the number of new Ebola cases and deaths.   The World Health Organization had initially voiced hope it would be able to contain the outbreak, thanks in part to a new vaccine.   But in recent weeks senior WHO officials have conceded that insecurity, scarce financial resources and local politicians turning people against health workers had seriously undermined the containment effort.
Date: Fri 3 May 2019
Source: BBC [abridged, edited]
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48155280?intlink_from_url=&link_location=live-reporting-story>

The DRC is also suffering [besides Ebola] from an outbreak of measles which has killed more than 1000 people, with 50,000 cases reported. WHO staff have confirmed measles in 14 of the country's 26 provinces, in both rural and urban areas.
====================
[The high number of cases may be partially due to the difficulty distributing the MMR vaccine in areas where violence is also causing a problem for the healthcare workers attempting to distribute Ebola vaccine. - Mod.LK]
Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2019 12:52:45 +0200

Butembo, DR Congo, April 30, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-six people died of Ebola in a single day in the Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu province, the highest daily toll since its outbreak nearly nine months ago, the health ministry said Tuesday.    The current outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after the epidemic that struck West Africa in 2014-2016 and killed more than 11,300 people.

The health ministry it had counted 957 deaths in the country, of which 891 were confirmed cases and 66 suspected ones.   "There were 26 deaths from confirmed cases" on Sunday, April 28, in the northeastern North Kivu province, the ministry said in a statement.   It said of the total deaths of 957, 33 were health workers who had succumbed to the disease.   The DR Congo declared a tenth outbreak of Ebola in 40 years last August in North Kivu before the virus spread into the neighbouring Ituri region.

The epicentre was first located in the rural area of Mangina, but then switched to the town of Beni.   Local organisations say the number of Ebola deaths is rising.    Adding to the logistical hitches are a string of assaults on teams fighting the disease.   A Cameroonian doctor working for the World Health Organization (WHO), Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, was shot dead on April 19.   "We will not be intimidated... we will finish our work," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a visit to Nord-Kivu on Monday.   "Your security is our priority. We will do everything to protect you," he added.
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