DR Congo Hopes To Declare End To Ebola Outbreak In April

 

DR Congo health officials said Monday they were “keeping fingers crossed” to declare the end of the devastating 19-month epidemic next month.

While the world’s attention has been focused on the coronavirus, the last patient under treatment for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was discharged on Tuesday.

If no more cases are diagnosed, the epidemic will officially end on April 12, or 42 days from the date of the last confirmed patient’s second negative test.

“Today, March 9 is the 21st day without any new confirmed case,” said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who is in charge of the Ebola fight.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that until then, there are no incidents,” he told a news conference.

“The greatest challenge for us today is to follow up on survivors because some continue to secrete the virus in their seminal fluids,” he said, adding that they were being treated to avoid infecting their partners.

READ ALSO: Burkina Faso Attacks Kill 43

DR Congo’s most recent Ebola outbreak was first identified in August 2018, and WHO declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” last July.

It has killed 2,264 people in DR Congo in the vast central African country’s 10th Ebola epidemic since 1976.

It is the second-most deadly Ebola epidemic in history after an outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

Since that time, the health authorities have gained a more powerful weapon against the disease: vaccination. Nearly 320,00 people have been vaccinated so far in DR Congo.

AFP

WHO Seeks $20m To Fight Ebola In DR Congo

World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General Ibrahima-Soce Fall attends a press conference on the WHO Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on March 6, 2020 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General Ibrahima-Soce Fall attends a press conference on the WHO Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on March 6, 2020 in Geneva. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The World Health Organization said Friday it needs $20 million to fight Ebola in DR Congo, even as the end of the devastating 19-month epidemic finally seemed within grasp. 

While the world’s attention has been focused on the coronavirus, the last patient being treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was discharged on Tuesday.

If no more cases are diagnosed, the epidemic will officially end within 42 days from the date of the last confirmed patient’s second negative test.

“The end of the outbreak will be declared on April 12” barring further cases, WHO assistant director-general for emergency response Ibrahima Soce Fall told the media in Geneva on Friday.

But he issued a note of warning, saying “it is critical to maintain surveillance and rapid response capacity” in order to quickly diagnose any new cases.

“We have over 1,169 survivors. So we have an important programme to continue to provide care to survivors, but also to make sure that we don’t have any flare-ups,” he added.

“We know that the focus is more now on COVID-19, but… we still need an additional $20 million for WHO to maintain the team on the ground because Ebola is also a matter of global health security.”

DR Congo’s most recent Ebola outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and WHO declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” last July.

It has killed 2,264 people in DR Congo, the vast central African country’s tenth Ebola epidemic since 1976.

It is the second-most deadly Ebola epidemic in history, after an outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa from 2013 to 2016.

Since that time, the health authorities have gained a more powerful weapon against the disease: vaccination. Nearly 320,00 people have been vaccinated so far in DR Congo.

 

AFP

DR Congo Battles Deadly Measles Outbreak

 

As the world grapples with the spread of novel coronavirus, in remote western DR Congo, officials are fighting a deadly outbreak of measles.

More than 6,000 people have died from measles in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a year, the world’s worst outbreak and triple the toll of the country’s Ebola epidemic. It is also nearly double the 3,404 people who have died from the coronavirus so far.

Last year, more than 18 million children under the age of five were vaccinated for measles across DR Congo and around 310,000 suspected cases were reported.

The UN agency World Health Organisation had said more emergency funds were needed from donors for a six-month immunisation plan for children to help curb the epidemic.

The second stage of vaccinations just started this week. Vaccines are loaded onto motorbikes in the villages around Temba, a six-hour drive along dirt roads from the western community of Seke-Banza.

Around 73,000 children from six months to 15 years old will be vaccinated in the Kongo Central province as part of the second phase.

Efforts to halt the spread of both Ebola and measles in DR Congo are hampered by a lack of access, weak health care and unrest across the country, especially in the east.

Several hours into the remote bush by motorbike from the regional capital of Matadi in western DR Congo, measles has killed six people in Seke-Banza, a small part of this forgotten epidemic.

The latest victim was a small boy who died during the week in hospital.

“There are two categories of patients: those who are in the acute phase of measles, with respiratory signs, conjunctivitis, fevers,” says Mederic Monier with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“A few months later, as their immune system is weak, they can trigger other diseases like malaria so we also take care of them.”

Adolphe Kiakupuati, a hunter like most men in the region, came with his three children for a vaccination. Lack of information is a problem in this area in the middle of the forest, on the borders of the two Congos.

“During the vaccination period for the children, I was busy in the forest and I was not aware of it. But now they are on treatment,” the father said.

Logistics are a major challenge, especially trying to keep vaccines at the required temperature as they are transported.

“The big challenge is to be able to supply all of these vaccines in all of these villages, while respecting quality,” says MSF logistics manager Jean Pletinckx.

The DRC recorded more than 335,413 suspected cases and 6,362 deaths from January 1, 2019 to February 20, 2020, according to WHO statistics.

Measles has killed more than the Ebola epidemic declared on August 1, 2018 in the east of the country, which has caused 2,264 deaths.

Measles is a highly-contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections.

DR Congo Signs ‘Peace’ Deal With Armed Group In East

 

The Congolese government has signed a deal with an armed group to restore peace and security in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after decades of violence, UN officials said.

The agreement was signed in the gold-rich province of Ituri, long wracked by communal violence that has left tens of thousands dead.

The deal, signed Friday between the DRC authorities and the FRPI (Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri), calls for a ceasefire and integration of the militias into the regular army.

“This agreement… is tasked with ending nearly two decades of violence,” the United Nations mission in DRC, MONUSCO, said in a statement.

It is “designed to restore peace, security and stability” in southern Ituri, following “several aborted attempts,” it added.

The FRPI, which today numbers 500 fighters, has been active in the south of Ituri for two decades.

The armed group is a holdover from the communal conflict that ravaged the province between 1999 and 2003, leaving tens of thousands dead until the intervention of a French-led European force called Artemis.

A local resident hailed the peace deal, particularly for families caught in the crosshairs of conflict.

“For we women, this agreement is synonymous with hope,” Gety resident Anualite Zawadi said, according to MONUSCO.

“For nearly 20 years, women were raped. We had trouble going to work in the fields. Children rarely went to school because of the lack of security.”

The conflict has seen several high-profile FRPI players punished over the years.

Former warlord Germain Katanga was sentenced in 2014 to 12 years in prison by the International Criminal Court for complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Another militia leader, Cobra Matata, was arrested and transferred to Kinshasa in January 2015, but his trial has never started.

Several thousand FRPI fighters were demobilised and integrated into the Congolese army from 2004 until 2006, but the group started reforming at the end of 2007.

Since the end of 2017, northern Ituri has seen a resurgence in violence between local militia groups that has left at least 700 people dead.

The UN says the violence could amount to a crime against humanity.

WHO To Decide On Emergency Status Of Ebola In DR Congo

 

UN health agency experts meet on Wednesday to decide whether the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo should still be considered a global health emergency, following a sharp decline in reported cases.

The World Health Organization last July declared it a “public health emergency of international concern” — a designation that gives the WHO greater powers to restrict travel and boost funding.

The outbreak was first identified in August 2018 and has since killed more than 2,300 people in eastern DR Congo — an area where several militia groups are operating.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said he was “encouraged” by an improvement in the situation, with only three cases reported in the past week.

But he added: “It’s not over. Any single case could reignite the epidemic.”

For the epidemic to be declared over, there have to be no new cases reported for 42 days — double the incubation period.

“Although the world is now focused on coronavirus, we cannot and must not forget Ebola,” Tedros said, adding that he would travel to DR Congo on Thursday to meet President Felix Tshisekedi.

The decision is ultimately up to the WHO’s Emergency Committee — a group of international experts that meets every three months once an emergency has been declared.

The designation last year came a few days after a patient was diagnosed with the virus in the provincial capital Goma — the first case in a major urban hub.

More than a month before that, the WHO reported that the virus had spread to Uganda for the first time.

The Ebola virus is passed on by contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected or recently deceased person.

The death rate is typically high, ranging up to 90 percent in some outbreaks, according to the WHO.

This is the second worst outbreak of the disease since 2014 when it killed about 11,000 people — mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Efforts to contain the current outbreak have been hindered by attacks on health workers and conflicts in the east.

The WHO said in November it had moved 49 staff out of the Beni region in eastern DR Congo because of the insecurity.

The Beni region, straddling the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, has been repeatedly attacked by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group, which civic activists say has massacred more than 300 people since October.

AFP

Twelve More Bodies Found After DR Congo Militia Massacre

 

Another 12 bodies have been discovered in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo region of Beni, two days after a militia attack left eight people dead and around 20 missing, police said on Sunday.

On Friday fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces militia slit the throats of eight people in Mangina commune, prompting hundreds of villagers to flee the area.

The attack was the latest massacre blamed on the ADF which has carried out reprisal attacks on civilians in response to a military crackdown on their fighters since October.

Eastern DR Congo has been wracked by militia violence for years, a legacy of its two Congo wars in the 1990s, but the ADF has been blamed for most of the recent attacks.

“The twelve bodies found today were victims of Friday’s ADF attack,” local Mangina police chief Major Losendjola Morisho told AFP.

He said the army were currently chasing militia fighters om Makiki village, two kilometres (1.2 miles) east of Mangina.

The Beni region is the epicentre of the ADF campaign where activists say more than 300 people have been killed since October when the army began its offensive.

On January 28, 36 civilians were killed in an attack in Oicha, also in Beni, part of the ADF’s revenge attacks on civilians.

The ADF, blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians in Beni since October 2014, began as an Islamist-rooted rebel group in Uganda that opposed President Yoweri Museveni.

It fell back into eastern DRC in 1995 during the Congo Wars and appears to have halted raids inside Uganda. Its recruits today are people of various nationalities.

24 Killed In Fresh DR Congo Attack

United Nations (UN) South African peacekeepers patrol a street in Oicha where an attack took place in a nearby village the day before, in Oicha, on January 29, 2020.  ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

 

Up to 24 people were killed on Thursday in a fresh attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces militia, taking the number of civilians killed this week to over 60, officials and a monitor said.

Twenty-four bodies were found at four sites near Oicha in the volatile Beni region, the area’s top administrator Donat Kibwana said.

The Kivu Security Tracker, a joint project of the Congo Research Group and Human Rights Watch put the toll at 19.

DR Congo troops have been carrying out a military operation on the ADF, which originated in Uganda but now active in DRC’s east — long plagued by various militias.

Militiamen have responded with a series of massacres against civilians with gruesome attacks involving machetes.

The ADF, blamed for the deaths of more than a thousand civilians in Beni since October 2014, began as an Islamist-rooted rebel group in Uganda that opposed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

It fell back into eastern DRC in 1995 during the Congo Wars and appears to have halted raids inside Uganda. Its recruits today are people of various nationalities.

UN experts estimated the ADF in 2018 to number around 450 fighters.

A report to the UN Security Council recently said the ADF seemed to follow an extreme Islamist ideology, but there is no information on whether the group has links with international jihadist groups.

The spate of massacres has become a major challenge for President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office a year ago.

AFP

36 Killed As Suspected Militia Attack Villages In DR Congo

 

Thirty-six people have been killed in a suspected militia attack in the eastern DR Congo region of Beni, where hundreds have died in violence since November, a local official said Wednesday.

Congolese troops have been carrying out a military operation on an armed group in the east of the country — long plagued by various militias — and militiamen have responded with a series of massacres against civilians.

“They were all hacked to death. This brings (the toll) to 36 bodies,” local Beni governor Donat Kibwana told AFP, updating casualties from Tuesday’s attack.

Officials had earlier reported 15 fatalities.

Two people with skull fractures caused by machetes have been admitted to the hospital in Oicha for surgery, an AFP reporter there said.

The main attack took place late Tuesday in Manzingi, a village 20 kilometres (12 miles) northwest from Oicha, while a pastor was also killed in nearby Eringeti.

According to a toll compiled by a civil society organisation, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), 265 people have now been killed in the Beni region since the army began its crackdown on the armed group, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), on October 30.

The massacres seem to be a tactic by the ADF to frighten the population into silence, local commentators say.

The group has also disrupted operations to curb an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu province.

Tuesday’s massacre occurred to the west of the ADF’s usual area of operations, which is closer to the Ugandan border.

The army offensive, unfolding in thick forest and jungle, has led to what the military say is the capture of the group’s headquarters and the killing of five of its six leaders.

Brutal militia

The ADF, blamed for the deaths of more than a thousand civilians in Beni since October 2014, began as an Islamist-rooted rebel group in Uganda that opposed Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

It fell back into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 1995 during the Congo Wars and appears to have halted raids inside Uganda. Its recruits today are people of various nationalities.

UN experts estimated the ADF in 2018 to number around 450 fighters.

A report to the UN Security Council last week said the ADF seemed to follow an extreme Islamist ideology, but there is no information on whether the group had links with international jihadist groups.

The spate of massacres has become a major challenge for President Felix Tshisekedi, who took office a year ago last Friday.

In November, angry protests erupted in the city of Beni, the region’s administrative hub, as citizens accused the UN peacekeeping force in DR Congo of failing to protect them.

Tshisekedi, in his first state-of-the-nation address to Congress, last month said he had changed the army command in Beni and sent 22,000 troops to the region.

Two Attacks Kill 14 In Eastern DR Congo

 

Two attacks in the strife-torn east of the Democratic Republic of Congo left 14 people dead including a government official and his family who were hacked to death, local sources said Wednesday.

Assailants thought to belong to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) killed the official, his wife and five children in the town of Bukoma in North Kivu province on Tuesday, resident Eugene Rwanze told AFP.

They went on to kill a neighbour, Rwanze added.

Local official Modeste Kabori confirmed the attack, saying FDLR militants were “sowing terror” in the area.

The rebel group operates freely in the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo – where other militias and rebel groups also abound.

Further north, five police officers and a civilian were killed in an attack on a police station in northeastern Ituri province.

“Armed men attacked the Irumu police station firing rounds in all directions,” local civil society head Guly Gotabo told AFP.

An administrative official, Josue Kandole, said the assailants raided the police station and seized two weapons, killing five police officers and a civilian.

The regional army spokesman confirmed the attack.

The Congolese army announced the killing of FDLR chief Sylvestre Mudacumura in September.

Burundi Prosecutors Seek 15-Year Jail Term For Four Detained Journalists

Four journalists of the Burundi’s independent media Iwacu Press Group:(L to R) Christine Kamikazi, Agnes Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana and Terence Mpozenzi leave at the High Court in Bubanza, western Burundi, on December 30, 2019 after attending a trial for complicity in endangering the internal security of the state. 
Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP

 

Burundi prosecutors Monday sought 15-year jail terms for four reporters and their driver who were detained covering an incursion of rebels from DR Congo and charged with endangering state security.

The journalists were working for Iwacu, one of Burundi’s few independent media outlets when they were arrested on October 22.

A witness in the northwestern province of Bubanza, where they were arrested, told AFP on condition of anonymity the long jail terms were sought after two hours of deliberations.

The source said the prosecution based the hefty sentencing demand largely on a WhatsApp exchange of messages between one of the reporters and a colleague based abroad in which the former wrote: “We are heading for Bubanza … to help the rebels.”

READ ALSO: Eighteen Killed In New Militia Attack In Eastern DR Congo

A further demand was for the detained to be denied their civic rights for 20 years.

Judgement was stayed for one month.

“We had the time to assure our clients’ defence. We hope they will be acquitted purely and simply,” defence counsel Clement Retirakiza, told reporters.

Police say at least 14 rebels from the Burundian RED-Tabara group, based across the border in eastern DR Congo, were killed in an attack the day the journalists were arrested.

The rebels say they killed a dozen security personnel.

The Reporters Without Borders NGO, which places Burundi a lowly 159th on its global list of press freedom, says those detained were simply doing their job while Human Rights Watch has called for their release.

Observers see the case against the four as a signal of toughness by the Burundi government just five months ahead of elections.

The country is currently mired in violent unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza announcing in April 2015 he was controversially standing for a third term. He won re-election in July.

AFP

18 Killed In New Militia Attack In Eastern DR Congo

 

 

Eighteen people in eastern DR Congo’s troubled region of Beni have been killed in a fresh attack by a notorious armed group, a local official said on Monday.

“There was an incursion in Apetina-Sana by the ADF last night,” Beni administrator Donat Kibwana told AFP, referring to the Allied Democratic Forces militia.

“(They) hacked 18 civilians to death.”

Apetina-Sana is 16 kilometres (10 miles) west of Oicha, the chief administrative town in the Beni region.

It is a point on the so-called Death Triangle, along with Mbau and Eringeti — the worst-hit area for attacks.

ADF fighters have killed more than 200 people since the army launched an offensive against the militia on October 30, according to a toll compiled by civil society groups.

The toll has sparked anger over the authorities’ response.

“The authorities were tipped off on Sunday evening about the presence of suspicious men west of Oicha,” said Teddy Kataliko, a civil society activist in Beni.

“We continue to ask the DRC armed forces to launch operations on the western side as well, to save civilians.”

There have also been demonstrations in the city of Beni, where local people accuse the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO of failing to protect them.

The ADF began as an Islamist rebellion hostile to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

It fell back into eastern DRC in 1995 and appears to have halted raids inside Uganda. Its recruits today are people of various nationalities.

In a separate incident in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday, “armed bandits” attacked a base used by a Chinese-owned gold mine, killing four people, the military said.

The raid happened in the Irumu district in the northeastern province of Ituri, said Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, the army’s provincial spokesman.

Two soldiers, a policeman and a driver for the mine were killed, he said.

“The assailants have not been completely identified but they must be armed bandits who look for supplies during the year-end festivities,” Ngongo said.

Eighteen Killed In DR Congo Militia Attack

Eighteen people in eastern DR Congo’s troubled region of Beni have been killed in a fresh attack by a notorious armed group, a local official said on Monday.

“There was an incursion in Apetina-Sana by the ADF last night,” Beni administrator Donat Kibwana told AFP, referring to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia. “(They) hacked 18 civilians to death.”