Aid workers helping to tackle the ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo are working under “terrifying” conditions amid violent attacks on health centres, the government has warned.
World Health Organisation figures suggest that since the outbreak began in August 2018, 1,632 cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed in the country, while 1,048 people have died.
But Rory Stewart – who was named international development secretary earlier this month – warned that amid the epidemic, health centres were being attacked by armed gangs.
“Ebola is back,” Stewart said in a video published on Twitter on Wednesday.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the frontline health workers,” he continued.
“It’s terrifying operating in the eastern Congo at the moment, partly because of the number of armed groups that are attacking those health centres.”
It comes after the International Rescue Committee – led by former Labour MP David Miliband – warned that three of its health centre triages had been burned down in recent months.
Meanwhile, the government in the DRC has urged countries donating money to the crisis response not to publicise the amount over fears that it will put frontline health workers at greater risk of attack.
Miliband, who recently returned from a trip to the DRC, described the ebola outbreak as an “unprecedented challenge” for the country – but warned that the committee had been forced to scale down its response following a series of “targeted and alarming attacks”.
“This ebola outbreak, taking place in an area of active conflict with widespread poverty and deep political divisions, is an unprecedented challenge for the government and people of DRC, and for the international community,” he said.
“The situation is far more dangerous than the statistic of 1,000 deaths… and the suspension of key services threatens to create a lethal inflection point in the trajectory of the disease.”
Milband added: “The danger is that the number of cases spirals out of control, despite a proven vaccine and treatment.”
The UK government estimates that, to date, more than 114,000 people have been vaccinated against the disease in the DRC.
The outbreak has been classes as the “second worst in history”. Between 2013 and 2016, more than 11,000 people died in an ebola epidemic in West Africa.