Fears Ebola could grip major Congo city – and would be hard to control
In a village called Aloya in the Democratic Republic of Congo, they have built a simple hut with rough timber and a ramshackle-looking roof.
There are two rooms inside with a plastic covered mattress in each. When I asked to look inside, I noticed that the nurse would not touch the door with her hands. Instead, she used the tip of her boot.
The shed looks a bit like prison and that is exactly what it is designed to do. It is here that local villagers suspected of contracting the Ebola virus are held until an ambulance takes them to a specialised treatment centre.
Getting ambulances in and out of here is not easy. The area is home to a notorious militia called the Mai Mai – one of dozens of rebel armies that operate in this part of the country.
These groups are responsible for nearly 200 attacks on health workers and patients – seven of whom have died.
Visiting Aloya is also a complicated affair. We needed a helicopter, followed by a long drive in an armed convoy to reach the village. It is what the team from the World Food Program (WFP) call a “hotspot” – and we joined them on their first visit to this community.
WFP officials set up a distribution centre offering 20kg sacks of food to family members who have been in direct contact with Ebola victims.
The reasoning is simple. The WFP and their partners do not want people at greatest risk of contracting Ebola moving around the country and searching for food. Better to stay put and stop the spread of the disease.
The idea is sound but it did not prevent the recent death of a 46-year old pastor – and it is the death of this church leader that has come to symbolise the failure of government officials and international aid agencies to contain the virus over the past 12 months. Some 1,650 people have now lost their lives.
The pastor was discovered in Goma, making him the first victim in this big, bustling city of 1.5 million. If the disease takes root in Goma, experts say it would be extremely difficult to control.
Furthermore, Sky News understands the pastor travelled for three days in a bus before he reached the city. There were at least 18 people on the vehicle, but local “surveillance teams” have only managed to trace eight passengers.
Aid agencies like the WFP know they have to do more to get ahead of this virulent disease, but they will require hundreds of millions of pounds in additional funding to help them do it.
Help may arrive in the form of declaration from the World Health Organisation, which will soon meet to decide whether the DR Congo’s Ebola crisis represents a global crisis as well. If the proverbial “global health emergency” button is pushed by WHO, more specialists and resources are likely to arrive.
They need all the help they can get in the village of Aloya. Three suspect cases were held in the wooden shack on the morning of our visit and everyone knows their chances of survival are slim.
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