Ongoing violence in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) saw a new peak last weekend with an attack on the city resulting in 18 civilian fatalities. Civil society organizations have announced a week of mourning in response to this violence, resulting in a temporary suspension of Ebola response activities, in addition to wider humanitarian programming.

To date, Beni has seen 33 of the 150 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola, making it the second most heavily impacted area. Given the current insecurity, the International Rescue Committee has not been able to access the health facilities in Beni. A day of mourning, in solidarity with the call from civil society organizations, equally led to a temporary halt of activities in Butembo, where the IRC is working to train health staff to recognize Ebola symptoms and effectively triage and isolate suspected cases. The IRC is monitoring the situation closely to be able to resume activities in Beni as soon as the situation allows as six days have now past since movements were restricted in the city.  

Sarah Terlouw, DRC Country Director at the International Rescue Committee, said:

“The security situation in and around Beni has been volatile for years and is only getting worse. The residents living in and around Beni continue to experience ongoing violence and insecurity in their communities, which has impacted all aspects of their lives, including access to healthcare and other services. With the latest events in Beni and Butembo, access to health centers to identify and treat those with Ebola is currently severely restricted. Within this context there is a great danger for existing and new cases to move around undetected, allowing for further spread of this very deadly disease.

We are at a critical time in the Ebola response. The suspension of activities risks lives. Since organizations have had to suspend activities, the follow up rate for suspected Ebola cases has dropped from 100 percent to 60 percent.

At the start of this response we were highly concerned about the constraints associated with trying to stop the spread of Ebola in an active conflict area. What we are seeing today is exactly what we were afraid of. The IRC has had to suspend its work strengthening infection, prevention and control in health facilities in Beni; a key step to stopping the chain of transmission.

What’s more, the vaccine has been vital to the relative success seen in this response. In West Africa, we often saw that an isolated case could quickly lead to eight more, but with the implementation of the vaccine we have been able to prevent its spread. A week without access means the vaccine cannot be administered to form a protective ring of vaccinated contacts around confirmed cases, which dramatically limits the risk of direct transmission. Similarly, teams tasked with tracing contacts of known Ebola patients cannot follow proper follow-up protocols. We are at a real risk of the number of cases spiking.

The IRC has been working in North Kivu since 1996, and our emergency health programs in Beni and the surrounding area has brought essential emergency health services to thousands of people affected by conflict and crisis. We stand with the people of Beni in their search for peace and development for the area, whilst prioritizing the critical life saving interventions of the Ebola response.”

To download photos of the IRC’s Ebola response in Nord Kivu, click here.

For more information on the IRC’s Ebola response, click here.