Unidentified attackers killed two Ebola health workers in eastern Congo over the weekend, the Health Ministry said, the latest in a string of assaults that have hampered efforts to stop the deadly spread of the virus, coming ahead of Monday’s high-level meeting in Geneva aimed at enhancing the response to the outbreak in Congo.
Local mistrust of health officials and militia violence in Congo’s restive east have caused the number of new cases to surge. Nearly 2,500 people have been infected and more than 1,600 killed in the second biggest outbreak on record.
Dozens of responders have been injured or killed in attacks this year.
The two killed were community workers near Mukulia in North Kivu province, and had been receiving threats since December, with one attacked previously, the ministry said in a statement. Their names and causes of death were not immediately released.
The first case of Ebola in the eastern Congo city of Goma was discovered on Sunday, raising concerns the virus could spread more quickly in a densely populated area close to the Rwandan border.
Goma, a lakeside city of one million people, is more than 350 km south of where the outbreak was first detected a year ago.
The first case of Ebola in Goma is “a potential game changer” in the scale of the outbreak, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.
Speaking at the UN in Geneva, Tedros said he was hopeful there would be no further spread of the disease in the city, but he was convening the WHO’s emergency committee to decide if the outbreak now constituted an international health emergency.
The patient was a priest who became infected during a visit to the town of Butembo, 200 km north of Goma, where he interacted with Ebola patients, Congo’s Health Ministry said in a statement.
He developed symptoms last week before taking a bus to Goma on Friday. When he arrived in Goma on Sunday, he went to a clinic, where he tested positive for Ebola, and was taken back to a clinic in Butembo on Monday.
“Due to the speed with which the patient has been identified and isolated, as well as the identification of all bus passengers from Butembo, the risk of spreading to the rest of the city of Goma remains low,” the ministry said.
Goma has been preparing for the arrival of Ebola for a year, setting up handwashing stations and making sure mototaxi drivers do not share helmets.
Ebola causes diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhagic fever, and can be spread through bodily fluids. An epidemic between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa.
In Geneva on Monday, Tedros, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock, Congolese Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga and U.K. Secretary for International Development Rory Stewart led the one-day conference.
Lowcock told Reuters that Congo’s Ebola outbreak could last much longer and cost far more in money and lives unless UN member states inject hundreds of millions of dollars now. Speaking before the meeting, he also called on UN member states to help end violence in the area.
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