Ebola Crisis Fueled by Violence

LUSEGHE, Democratic Republic of Congo — Four health workers threaded their way cautiously down a steep valley in their rubber boots, into a forest so thick and so tall that the air around them turned suddenly cool, trying to reach a remote village in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo where a woman had recently succumbed to Ebola.

Dr. Kasereka Bernardin, a vaccinologist, looked over his shoulder, made the sign of the cross, and acknowledged that the lethal virus was not his most immediate fear.

“We’re scared of the Mai-Mai,” he said, using a local term for militias, his forehead lightly beaded with sweat. “We’re afraid they might kill us.”

The trip had already been delayed by clashes between government forces and a militia group in the surrounding Kanyihunga district, an emerging hot spot in a new outbreak of Ebola, and nerves were on edge. The team — an epidemiologist, two contact tracers and Dr. Bernardin — had not been able to line up guarantees of safe passage from the militia leaders, or even to make contact.

As concerned as they were about security, however, with every passing hour, the doctors were even more fearful that the deadly virus could spread to the entire village, Luseghe — or, worse, expand beyond its borders.

There have been many hopeful advances recently in the battle against the deadly Ebola virus. A vaccine is now available, and experimental treatments appear to be helping to save lives. With international help, Congo was able to quickly snuff out an earlier outbreak in its Équateur Province this year.

Yet eastern Congo, teeming with no fewer than 100 armed groups, has been gripped by near-constant conflict since the uprising that led to its independence in 1960, as well as the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda and the civil war soon after that eventually established the regime of Joseph Kabila.

Millions are thought to have died from the chronic violence, many of them at the hands of government forces. The insecurity is frustrating efforts to combat this latest Ebola outbreak — now the second largest in history, after one that tore through West Africa from 2014 to 2016, claiming 11,310 lives — making the current crisis almost entirely manufactured.

Ebola still kills most of the people who contract it. Since the outbreak here was declared in August, health officials have recorded 583 confirmed and suspected cases as of Dec. 25. About a third of the patients have recovered, while 354 have died.

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