UN calls for end to Congo fighting to combat Ebola outbreak
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called Wednesday for an immediate end to hostilities by all armed groups in northeastern Congo to combat a deadly Ebola outbreak.
Council members stressed the urgency of getting medical teams to the affected areas quickly “because the disease can spread rapidly, including to neighboring countries, possibly impacting regional stability.”
The council issued the statement after a closed-door video briefing by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and ahead of a trip to Congo starting Thursday evening.
WHO said Saturday that the risk of the Ebola virus spreading from northeastern Congo, where the latest outbreak began, is now “very high” after two confirmed cases were discovered near the Uganda border.
The outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever in northeastern Congo is now larger than the one in the northwest that was declared over last month. And it is more complicated to contain because of a dense, highly mobile population and a rebel threat so serious that some health workers say they’re operating in a war zone.
A deadly attack in Beni, the heart of Ebola containment efforts, forced a suspension of work to contain the virus for two days last week. That led the WHO’s emergencies chief, Peter Salama, to warn that insecurity, public defiance about vaccinations, and politicians fanning fears ahead of elections in December could create a “perfect storm” leading the outbreak to spread.
As of last Friday there were 124 confirmed Ebola cases, including 71 deaths. The previous outbreak in Congo’s Equateur province had 54 confirmed cases, including 33 deaths.
The Security Council urged all parties in Congo “to ensure safe and unhindered access for humanitarian and medical personnel” and underscored that more needs to be done to ensure security for Ebola response teams in the northeast. It also condemned “all attacks against civilians.”
Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sacha Llorentty Soliz, the current council president, said the Ebola outbreak will be on the agenda of the council’s visit to Congo along with December’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
During the visit, starting Friday, he said members will meet government, opposition and civil society leaders in the capital Kinshasa, far from the Ebola-affected area. A meeting with President Joseph Kabila has not yet been confirmed, Llorentty Soliz said.
Congo is a vast country with trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral wealth which dozens of armed groups are battling over. Millions of Congolese have been displaced by various internal conflicts, including in the northeast.
Kabila stressed in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting last week that long-delayed elections will go ahead on Dec. 23. His mandate ended in December 2016, but he remained in office because of delays in holding elections, which sparked deadly protests.