April 28, 2020 / 12:29 PM / a month ago

Escaped Ebola patient hiding in Congo militia-held area: officials

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - An Ebola patient who escaped from a treatment centre in eastern Congo earlier this month has been hiding in an area controlled by local militia groups, local authorities and a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A health worker puts on Ebola protection gear before entering the Biosecure Emergency Care Unit (CUBE) at the ALIMA (The Alliance for International Medical Action) Ebola treatment centre in Beni, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, March 31, 2019. Picture taken March 31, 2019.REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

A cluster of new Ebola infections emerged on April 10 in the town of Beni, two days before the Democratic Republic of Congo was due to declare the end of the world’s second-largest Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,200 people since it started in August 2018.

On April 17, a 28-year-old motorbike taxi-driver who had tested positive for Ebola ran away from the centre where he was being treated in the town of Beni.

Health workers had been unable to locate him. But local authorities on Tuesday said he was living in an area controlled by a number of armed militias.

“His location poses a real problem at a time when the area is facing several scourges, including armed groups,” said Beni’s deputy mayor Muhindo Bakwanamaha.

Boubacar Diallo, deputy incident manager for the WHO’s Ebola response operation, said the hidden confirmed case was believed to be in the Beni area controlled by Mai-Mai armed groups.

The WHO confirmed a seventh new case on Tuesday, a 39-year-old woman who had been in confinement since her daughter died from the disease on April 20.

Small outbreaks are common towards the end of an Ebola epidemic, but health workers need to ensure the virus is contained by tracking, quarantining and vaccinating the contacts of new cases.

Two new vaccines have had a major impact in containing Ebola, but deep public mistrust and militia attacks have prevented health workers from reaching some areas hit by the epidemic.

Three-quarters of the 971 known contacts from the latest flare-up have been vaccinated so far, according to an internal WHO report shared with Reuters.

Congo’s health system, which has suffered from decades of war, under-funding and mismanagement, is simultaneously fighting measles and cholera epidemics, as well as the global coronavirus pandemic.

The country has recorded 471 cases of COVID-19 and 30 deaths.

Reporting by Erikas Mwisi Kambale in Beni and Hereward Holland; writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Juliette Jabkhiro and William Maclean

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