Ebola: the news keeps getting worse

The Ebola epidemic in north-eastern Congo is still rumbling along.  It hasn’t spread as fast as it could, thanks to truly heroic measures by medical teams trying to contain it:  but their efforts are being stymied by local opposition, superstition and backwardness, about which I wrote recently.

That opposition turned deadly in recent days.

An armed group attacked an Ebola treatment centre in Butembo, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on February 27. It wasn’t an isolated incident– three days earlier, an armed group also attacked another health centre about 15 kilometres away from the first. In both cases, the assaillants didn’t harm patients or staff but instead sought to burn and destroy the buildings and medical equipment, according to our Observers.

. . .

On February 19, a group of men armed with bows and arrows murdered a nurse in Vuhovi, which is about 15 kilometres from Katwa.

After that deadly incident, a group of nurses — fearful for their lives and safety — went on strike. This tragedy and the resulting protests disrupted efforts to quell the epidemic.

. . .

Everyone that the France 24 Observers interviewed said that these attacks were a violent reflection of the general uneasiness and suspicion amongst the population towards the specialists treating Ebola. This mistrust has been fuelled by false information and a general lack of knowledge linked to the conflict, says Charly Mathekis, a 44-year-old teacher and writer in Katwa.

“People are confused. On one hand, some political leaders have said in the media that Ebola was invented for political reasons while, on the other hand, religious leaders are calling on people to take the epidemic seriously. Local people also resent the fact that a lot of the healthcare workers brought in to deal with this crisis come from other regions or abroad and that they are better paid than local nurses.

“Some people can’t fathom why people with symptoms similar to malaria go into these Ebola treatment centres and end up dying several days later. They think that the illness is actually created and spread in these centres.

“Lots of false information, rumours and conspiracy theories have been circulating both online and by word of mouth. Many of these rumours claim that the illness was manufactured as a way to generate profit or as a political move meant to delay the elections [Editor’s note: In late December, elections were delayed in both Beni and Butembo because of the Ebola epidemic].”

There’s more at the link.

The New York Times reports that the attacks have halted efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic in the region.

Two attacks on Ebola treatment centers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have forced the international aid group Doctors Without Borders to close the facilities, it said on Thursday, warning that the outbreak was not under control.

. . .

“This attack has crippled our ability to respond to what is now the epicenter of the outbreak,” Emmanuel Massart, the emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Katwa, said in a statement on Tuesday.

. . .

With international groups, Congo quelled an Ebola outbreak last year, and aid workers said the success of that campaign was cause for hope in the current crisis. But for now, Ms. Elmer said, the loss of the two centers was “absolutely crippling in the area where it’s the biggest hot spot right now.”

Again, more at the link.  You can read more from Doctors Without Borders here about recent events.

As I’ve said before, ignore the “official” figures about the number of people infected, the death rate, etc.  I know that area from of old.  It’s highly likely – approaching certainty, IMHO – that the true toll is several times higher than reported.  It’s just that with so many people scattered through the equatorial forest and bushlands in informal settlements, or running from any of the dozens of armed groups competing for control of the region, no-one’s been able to get to them, or observe the cause of death of the many who get sick.  Their survivors have a vested interest in not being identified as having had contact with an Ebola victim, because if that happens, they’ll be forcibly quarantined in a camp filled with others who’ve had the same contact.  Effectively, they’ll be incarcerated among the highest-risk population in the area.  Would anyone in their right mind want that to happen to them?  I certainly wouldn’t!

The Ebola epidemic may not be discussed much in the mainstream media, but it’s got the potential to be the disaster of the decade, if not the century, if it breaks out of its present geographical limits and spreads across the rest of central Africa.  If that happens, it’ll be in Europe and the Americas before you know it . . . and then hell’s coming to breakfast, because there is no way enough vaccine can be produced in time to deal with something on that scale.  “It takes a year to make a batch of the vaccine, from ordering the ingredients to capping filled multidose vials.”  The stockpile of vaccine was at 300,000 doses late last year, but who knows how many are left now?

When you see the CDC making ebola vaccine available to US first responders and hospital emergency room staff, and urging them to get it ASAP . . . that’ll be the sign that it’s too late to worry.



  1. Ebola carriers – enough like zombies to scare the crap out of me. Many of them truly are among the walking dead but they spread the disease by contact not by going into a feeding frenzy and biting people. Maybe not much difference except we would probably stand a better chance facing of zombies than unknowns who are Ebola carriers.

  2. At least we don't have a president who wants to import them into the country while having Ebola.

  3. "When you see the CDC making ebola vaccine available to US first responders and hospital emergency room staff, and urging them to get it ASAP . . . that'll be the sign that it's too late to worry."

    So they won't do that.

    There won't be any vaccinations this side of the pond; surviving stockpiles will go to the CDC and government higher-ups, and perhaps active military units.
    Not their families, either. Just the people working on more vaccine, and people guarding the people working on a cure.

    For everyone else, including first responders, it'll be shank's mare, and Devil take the hindmost.

    This time, like last time, Ebola walks in, and I walk out.

    Anybody wants to stay and play in the hot zone should have their wills up to date, and their heads examined.

  4. Heard a virologist who worked as an Ebola aid worker say in a conference lecture, “How to contain an Ebola outbreak? Two simple steps: stop killing foreign aid workers, and stop f*cking infected corpses.”

  5. Agree with Aesop. None of us are under any illusions that healthcare workers will be taken care of. If it hits here, be prepared for ERs to shut down. Most of us keep our keys in our pockets anyway d/t the violence; nobody's going to sacrifice themselves or their families on the altar of corporate incompetence. And being isolated is no guarantee of avoiding it; a year or so ago, I somehow ended up taking care of a family of ailing East Africans who'd fled the area. Not sure how they ended up in Nowhereville Ohio, they were vague on the details, but I was well into my assessment before the situation became apparent. Had they been infected, it would have been too late for everyone at the clinic. Plan on going to ground.

  6. The effective treatment for an ebola outbreak is functionally identical to the treatment for a zombie outbreak. You just have to have the will to implement the solution.

  7. Sounds like more vaccine could actually be produced in 6 or so months.

    This sounds like a step that could be cut by 99% or even eliminated.

    >Converting bulk vaccine to vials that are ready to
    >ship takes four or five months, she said.

  8. That’s exciting the vaccine is working that well.

    It explains why Ebola did not become as bad as it could be yet.

    War zones, diseases, and corruption are a bad combination. Plus limited infrastructure.

  9. Something about this whole thing just doesn't sound right … "Fearful locals" attacking 2 aid stations but not really hurting anybody. If people are spurred to that kind of violence stopping at just hardware destruction makes no sense. The Congolese are not normally known for their restraint in situations like this.

    I'm not a big fan of "conspiracy theories" in general but The Congo has one of the largest uranium mines in the world. It's not much of a stretch to think that there are foreign countries paying for a little regional destabilization since a number of those same countries are trying to increase their uranium stockpiles. Civil war makes for a buyers market.

    It wouldn't be the first time:

  10. Daniel Cook – even the village idiots in deepest Africa have come to realize that actually killing white aid workers results in bad things happen. Sky Soldiers dropping in, drone attacks, foreign aide withdrawn and other really bad things. Attacking white aid workers and only breaking their stuff and stealing, robbing and pillaging doesn't result in the same level, or any level of response from seriously angry armed men.

    Now, injuring or killing the locals working with the white aid workers, well, that's fair game and doesn't receive the same level of reporting or response.

    A sad indictment of Africa as a whole, isn't it?

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