A sudden surge in violence in DR Congo has led to the suspension of aid agency efforts in the fight against the Ebola and measles epidemics in hotspots where they are proving tough to control.
Angry protests in Beni in eastern DRC have forced the military to protect the UN mission and led to the evacuation, hibernation or scaling back of international aid agency presence and prevented vital disease prevention work, including that by World Vision.
Aid workers report seeing protestors in the streets, hearing gunfire and smoke. The town hall has been burned down.
The protestors, many of them youth, are angry that due to ongoing insecurity citizens have been killed. They want the UN to do more to protect them although the UN says it can only do so at the behest of the government.
Helen Barclay-Hollands, World Vision DRC eastern zone director, said operations in Beni had been completely halted and the fight to control Ebola and measles was at serious risk of being undermined. Children would die from disease as a direct result of the insecurity if work did not resume extremely quickly.
She said: “This outbreak of violence could not have come at a worse time. We were just about getting on top of the Ebola epidemic and aid agencies were scaling up their efforts to contain measles which has killed just over 4,000 people in the country so far. Now this is all at risk.”
The protests began last week just as a new Ebola case was recorded. Some 300 people were assessed to have been exposed to potential infection by that single person but now efforts to trace and monitor those people were are at serious risk. She said fighting elsewhere in the east was also creating sudden evacuations and mass movements of people, making the likelihood of Ebola and measles spreading much more likely.
With aid workers evacuating or hunkering down and with further protests expected it could be days before health and prevention work picked up again.
Ms Barclay-Hollands said: “Measles has killed more people in DR Congo than Ebola and is a massive killer of young children. Every day that health responders lose fighting this disease means more children will die. We urge a return to peace as soon as possible so efforts to combat the epidemics can continue without delay."
World Vision’s work is focused on preventing the spread of Ebola which has killed almost 2,200 people and carries a range of health and child protection programmes.
Spokesperson available (from 6.30pm Goma time):
Name: Helen Barclay-Hollands, Eastern zone director, DRC
Skype Video, if connection works