The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on countries surrounding the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to scale up efforts to prevent the spread of Ebola through their borders.
The call followed a sudden setback in containing the disease and accessing some Ebola patients in the DRC.
In a statement on its website on Wednesday, WHO said the response to the outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu and Ituri provinces in the DRC was at a critical juncture of being lost, due to factors ranging from insecurity and mistrust.
In order to curtail the spread of the deadly disease across borders, WHO said neighbouring countries need to ensure a level of readiness, should they face cases of Ebola themselves.
Seven countries border the DRC. These are Angola, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Zambia.
The international agency has been working in DRC since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak earlier this year. But it said the grounds gained in containing the disease was being threatened by “worsening insecurity, mistrust from affected communities and extension into previously unaffected areas.”
As of 25 September, the disease had affected 151 people and killed 101.
WHO said though the government of DRC in collaboration with WHO and other international development partners had been working to reduce cases, recent developments were raising concerns.
“In recent weeks, a strong government-led response, supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), other UN partners, NGOs, and civil society, had resulted in a steady week-by-week reduction in cases.
“But there is a risk now that hard-won gains may be lost,” WHO said.
The agency reported an increase in frequency and severity of attacks by armed opposition groups. It said the attacks by armed opposition groups on the town of Beni in North Kivu, where the Ministry of Health and partners base their response, have occurred with alarming frequency.
“Most recently a deadly attack on 22 September left 21 dead, including 17 civilians. As a result, WHO and its UN partners were asked to halt operations in Beni, while the city mourns its dead.
WHO said some operations have begun to resume, but even a gap of two days has resulted in health workers not being able to reach contacts of Ebola patients to monitor their health; or investigate alerts of potential cases, it said.
It said some families had chosen to care for sick relatives at home, often because they were misinformed, and because a natural fear of the disease is now being exploited by local politicians.
The agency said others sick with Ebola travel widely to seek alternative care, putting themselves, their families and health workers at risk.
“This has brought infection to new locations, where teams cannot provide them with access to treatment, or provide protective vaccines to their contacts. These include security red zones which are difficult to access, and to areas bordering Uganda.”
WHO calls on all relevant parties, and governments or groups that have influence over these parties, to help protect responders and civilians.