The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a ceasefire in a conflict-torn region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as continued fighting is hampering efforts to reign in an Ebola outbreak.

Over 40 people have already died in the North Kivu province and the on-going conflict is creating an environment conducive to the spread of the deadly disease.

WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was speaking in Geneva after a recent visit to the DRC.

The outbreak in North Kivu’s Beni region, which shares borders with Uganda and Rwanda, comes just days after an initial outbreak in Equateur Province was declared contained.

“The active conflict is the other challenge and the red zones which are inaccessible and of course in addition to that the high population density, the high population movement, not only internally but also across borders into neighbouring countries are the serious challenges. What we are asking the international community is to help in ensuring access to the inaccessible areas. And also we call on the warring parties for cessation of hostilities, because the virus is dangerous to all. It doesn’t choose between this group or that group,” says Ghebreyesus

There are dozens of armed groups operating in North Kivu with over 120 incidents of violence recorded since January this year. The area also has a high population density, which unlike Equateur Province could further complicate the response.

Ghebreyesus says Ebola is a very dangerous enemy, “We have to be vigilant, we have to follow 24/7, and we need to be very flexible in changing the way we tackle the virus, based on the situation. We have to be pragmatic and that is what we are saying. So at all levels, including myself, we are focused on following up the situation, the follow up is 24/7 and we will do or decide the right thing based on the situation.”

WHO says it’s increasing the number of health professionals on the ground and doing everything in order to be more aggressive with the virus. The UN Children’s Fund has shipped an additional 90 tons of health, water and sanitation supplies to the eastern DRC.

UNICEF’s Deputy Country Representative Tajudeen Oyewale says, “Our role as UNICEF is basically taking technical leadership role in three areas. The first is on communication. We are responsible for ensuring that community members understand what they need to do to prevent and protect them. The second is on water, hand washing and hygiene.”

Oyewale says they need to make sure that people do not transmit infections by adopting good behaviour, “the last is to provide psycho-social support to families including children of cases affected by Ebola. And this is why we partner with everyone including WHO and the government to contribute towards the response to the Ebola outbreak in the DRC.”

So far there have been 57 cases – 30 confirmed and 27 suspected while 41 people have died in the eastern DRC, already surpassing the number of cases reported in the more sparsely populated Equateur Province in the west of the country.

As part of the response, the government has begun the use of an experimental treatment known as mAb114, the first time it’s been deployed in an active outbreak.

The WHO says patients who have received the drug are reported to be doing well while vaccinations are also on going in the region.

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