By Djaffar Al Katanty and Aaron Ross
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The death toll from Democratic Republic of Congo’s year-long Ebola outbreak has climbed above 2,000, government data showed on Friday, as responders battle to overcome community mistrust and widespread security problems.
The government team overseeing the response said the number of confirmed and probable cases had also hit a milestone of more than 3,000 in what has become the second-worst epidemic of the virus on record.
Despite the development of an effective vaccine and treatments, health workers have struggled to control the spread of the disease in remote and conflict-hit areas of eastern Congo, where many locals are wary of the response effort.
“For the treatments to work, people need to trust them and the medical staff who administer them. This will take time, resources and a lot of hard work,” the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a statement.
This is Congo’s 10th Ebola outbreak, but it is the first in the densely forested hillside provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, where militia-led violence and ethnic killing have undermined security in certain areas for decades.
The government data showed Ebola deaths reaching 2,006 and cases at 3,004.
Earlier in August, the authorities came up against new fronts in their fight to contain the epidemic, fanning fears that the spread of the disease could accelerate.
Health workers confirmed the first cases in South Kivu province on Aug. 16. Soon after, a woman contracted the virus in a remote, militia-controlled territory in North Kivu, hundreds of kilometres away from other known cases.
“We are fighting literally (along) with all partners on the ground to reach people, to reach contacts, to identify cases as early as possible,” World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said on Tuesday.
Last week the WHO voiced concern about the widening geographic reach of the disease, but confirmed the virus had not gained a foothold in the major city of Goma, even after four cases were recorded there in July and early August.
“Two thousand deaths means that there is a problem,” said Timothée Buliga, a Goma resident. “We need to reach the point where we reject Ebola, say no and eradicate it definitively.”
Neighbouring Uganda said on Friday that a young girl who tested positive for Ebola after crossing the border, the fourth case imported from Congo since June, would be sent back to Congo for treatment.
Only the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been deadlier than the current outbreak. More than 11,300 people died then out of 28,000 who were infected.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehey in Geneva; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Hugh Lawson)