DRC Ebola response ramps up as UN agency prepares for 'worst-case scenario'
The international response to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is well under way but it is going to be “tough” and “costly”, a senior UN health agency official said on Friday.
Dr. Peter Salama, Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the agency was preparing for all eventualities.
This included a “worst-case scenario”, according to the WHO official, who confirmed that the agency had been notified on Tuesday of the outbreak in Bikoro, Equateur province, western DRC, by national authorities:
“We have three healthcare workers infected and one, who is being reported as of yesterday as having died, and we know that healthcare workers can really be an amplification factor for these kinds of outbreak. And we know that the number of suspected probable and confirmed cases is significant. So, we are very concerned and we are planning for all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario.”
To date there have been 32 suspected cases of the viral disease, including two laboratory-confirmed cases, 18 probable cases and a dozen cases classified as “suspicious”.
WHO is working closely with authorities in DRC to scale up operations and mobilize health partners that have helped in recent Ebola outbreaks in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The agency is in discussions with the World Food Programme (WFP) to organise airlifted supplies to the affected area, and to clear ground so that planes can land.
UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, has also mobilised doctors and water, sanitation and hygiene specialists to help contain the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, announced an immediate $2 million allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help humanitarian partners in the DRC fight the outbreak.
Over the last four decades, DRC has seen eight Ebola outbreaks.
Children are dying now in DRC’s Kasai from malnutrition, warns UNICEF
Staying with Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): 400,000 children “are at risk of death” in the Kasais region from food shortages caused by conflict and displacement.
UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued the warning on Friday, as it scales up its response to those in need.
Before violence flared in mid-2016 between government forces and tribal militia, the people of the Kasais had little experience of conflict, according to UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac.
He has just returned from DRC, where he said he was personally affected on a deep level by the desperate situation he found.
“What I saw in Kasai really shocked me at a personal level...The situation there is absolutely scary in the sense that people had to flee in the bush, the family, children, they had to stay a few months because of the violence. They had no proper food, they had no proper water to drink. And now that the violence has decreased they come back. And our point as we often say, you know, we often say that children are at risk of dying; no, that’s not what we are saying in Kasai. We say that children are dying; I saw that.”
Some 3.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the Kasais, including 2.3 million children.
UNICEF says that many families driven from their homes have been unable to plant and harvest their crops for three successive seasons.
It also warns that thousands of children have been recruited into armed groups and militias and that hundreds of schools and health centres have been looted, burned or destroyed.
To fund its programmes for the children of Kasai in 2018, UNICEF has appealed for $ 88 million.
Concern over sharp increase in civilian casualties in Yemen
Conflict in Yemen caused a spike in civilian casualties last month, the “deadliest” for civilians so far this year, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.
According to the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, April saw nearly 480 civilian victims in the Arabian peninsula country.
The bloodshed has continued in May as government forces backed by a Saudi-led international coalition battle a Houthi-led opposition, in a conflict dating back more than three years.
According to the UN human rights office, there have been 63 civilian casualties so far this month, including six deaths.
OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that recent attacks against targets in residential areas “raised serious doubts” about respect for internationally recognized rules of war.
These include Monday’s airstrikes against the Presidential Office in Sana’a, a Houthi stronghold, she said:
“Based on the information collected by the UN Human Rights Office in Yemen, the first raid hit directly the Presidential Office, which is located in a densely populated area. Eyewitnesses told us that the same building was hit again about seven minutes after the first strike, causing additional casualties among the first responders to the first strike.”
Ms Shamdasani added that there had also been casualties resulting from “apparent indiscriminate shelling” by Houthis, including recent incidents on 1 and 2 May, during which five civilians were injured and one was killed.
According to OCHA, 22.2 million people in Yemen need humanitarian or protection assistance urgently.
Daniel Johnson, UN News, Geneva.