“That event appears to have been a woman who was admitted to hospital around Beni, and on discharge had recovered from the original complaint”, he said. After leaving however, “she came down with a fever and other symptoms that were clinically consistent with Ebola, and later on, seven of her direct relatives also contracted the disease.”
Dr Salama explained how longstanding conflict in Eastern DRC – involving more than 100 armed groups in the Kivu area and elsewhere – created an additional level of difficulty in trying to contain the deadly disease.
In the first week of February this year alone around Beni, attacks displaced more than 2,200, in addition to 1,500 displaced at the end of January. In the Djugu Territory to the south of North Kivu, inter-ethnic violence led nearly 30,000 to flee their homes to the provincial capital Bunia, at the beginning of the year.
“It’s going to be a very, very complex operation,” he said, noting that the vast country is home to the UN’s largest peacekeeping operation, the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO).
One million of the province’s eight million inhabitants are displaced and getting access to some of those in danger of coming into contact with Ebola, will require an armed escort in some cases, the WHO official explained.
There is also the additional threat that those fleeing violence may also head into nearby Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi, taking the infection with them, Dr. Salama said, noting that additional surveillance measures are being implemented at crossing points.