UN demands immediate halt to attacks in Ebola areas in Congo

October 30, 2018 - 3:10 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday called on armed groups jeopardizing the response to an Ebola outbreak in Congo to immediately halt their attacks, expressing "great concern" at the potential regional spread of the often deadly virus.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the U.N.'s most powerful body condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms," especially "those posing serious security risks for responders." It singled out Allied Democratic Forces rebels.

The council said the security situation in areas affected by the Ebola outbreak "is severely hampering the response efforts and facilitating the spread of the virus" in Congo and the region.

Members cited a World Health Organization warning and expressed "great concern about the potential for the virus to spread into Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi."

The resolution adopted by the council demanded that all parties "ensure full, safe, immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian and medical personnel" to Ebola-affected areas.

This is the first time an Ebola outbreak has occurred in Congo's far northeast, where multiple rebel groups are active. Last week, the ministry of health said teams responding to the Ebola outbreak are attacked three or four times a week on average, a level of violence unseen in the country's nine previous outbreaks of the virus.

Ebola is spread via the body fluids of infected people, including the dead. The health ministry said Monday there were 239 confirmed cases and 35 probable cases. At least 120 people have died.

In trying to contain the outbreak, which was declared on Aug. 1, health experts have faced resistance from wary communities, with infected people slipping away. Safe burials are often flashpoints where families bristle at outsiders telling them how to say goodbye to loved ones.

In one example of the rumors that pose challenges to containing the virus, the health ministry said this month that 22 young people in the northeastern city of Butembo dug up an Ebola victim and opened the body bag to verify that health workers had not taken organs from the body.

The resolution adopted by the council emphasized the need for Congo's government and those providing assistance "to enhance efforts to communicate to the public" and implement safety and health protocols and preventive measures.

This will "mitigate against misinformation and undue alarm about the transmission and extent of the outbreak among and between individuals and communities," the council said.

The resolution also underscored the need to step up engagement with local communities and work closely with religious leaders, youth and women's groups, and affected families, including on resuming humanitarian assistance.

The Security Council also emphasized that "men and women are affected differently by the Ebola outbreak" and the response must address their different needs. It urged international support to bring the Ebola outbreak under control.

Ethiopia's U.N. Ambassador Tekeda Alemu said it is "vital" that the international community provides flexible financial support "to enable a more rapid response."

Sweden's U.N, deputy ambassador Carl Skau said the resolution "sends a clear, coherent and comprehensive message of support to all those involved in the front-line response efforts, on the ground in (Congo) and in neighboring countries."

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