UN agencies decry ‘conflict zone’ challenges in Ebola response

Ahead of the one-year milestone of the current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), two United Nations (UN) agencies have spoken of the challenges of working in “an active conflict zone”.

“This Ebola response is far more complex because it is in an active conflict zone,” Jerome Pfaffman a health specialist with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday at a UN briefing.

“People living in North Kivu and Ituri are facing a public health emergency and a humanitarian crisis at the same time.”

After his third deployment to DRC, Pfaffman said, “We are two days before the one-year milestone of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

He noted, “Several times, we were very close to having this outbreak under control. Or so we thought.” The ongoing Ebola outbreak in DRC has already killed more than 1,700 people.

 Pfaffman said that both Ituri and North Kivu provinces also face a significant measles outbreak. “In Ituri, about half of the health facilities have been damaged or destroyed during fighting over the past two years.

“We have just completed a first vaccination campaign in the provincial capital, Bunia, where we vaccinated more than 40, 000 children against measles,” said the UNICEF official.

He said far more children need vaccinating “against the full array of diseases, to protect them from all the public health risks they are exposed to”.

As of July 28, there were 2,671 confirmed cases of Ebola, including more than 700 children (718), more than half of them (57 per cent) below five years old.

“It is unprecedented to have this proportion of children affected in an Ebola outbreak,” said Pfaffman.

At the UN briefing, Herve Verhoosel, Geneva spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) noted the acceleration of Ebola in eastern DRC.

“The WFP is stepping up preparations for a potential further escalation of the epidemic,” said Verhoosel.

He said WFP wants to expand the fleet of aircraft — presently two transport helicopters and two passenger planes – dedicated to the Ebola campaign in support of frontline responders, including UN agency and non-governmental organisation (NGO) personnel.

“In the next six months, WFP plans to scale up and nearly double its food assistance and nutritional support to 440,000 Ebola-affected people in DRC,” said the WFP spokesperson. –Xinhua

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