Three health workers were killed and several injured in attacks against two Ebola response centres in eastern Congo early on Thursday, authorities and health services said.

Violence and unrest have severely hampered efforts to contain the second worst Ebola epidemic on record, which has killed 2199 people since it was announced in August 2018.

Militias known as Mai Mai and local residents have attacked health facilities; sometimes because they believe Ebola does not exist, in other cases because of resentment that they have not benefited from the influx of donor funding.

Mai Mai fighters simultaneously attacked Ebola centres in Mangina in North Kivu and Byakoto in Ituri, said Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the Ebola response for the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“It is a blow to the Ebola response because we were eradicating the disease. These attacks are challenging the efforts to date,” Muyembe said.

Police said the three dead were World Health Organization (WHO) workers.

The WHO were not yet able to confirm if their staff were killed, and said the locations attacked were not hospitals or treatment centres.

“This is the first time we have had an actual attack on our bases,” Margaret Harris, a WHO spokeswoman, told Reuters. “We’ve seen it time and time again that we have the number of cases declining, and then you have an episode of violence where activities cannot continue at full strength for a few days and you see a rise in cases, so it’s a major setback.”

New infections have been on the decline since August, with just 70 cases identified in all of October, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Monday.

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