DR Congo: Ebola fight complicated by war and suspicion over vaccine

10 Nov, 2018
, Source:

There is a football pitch with battered-looking goalposts located just across the road from the city hospital in Beni – but nobody will be playing football there for a while.

Instead, this scrappy piece of land has been turned into a heaving mass of activity as 330 workmen put up a quick-build emergency health facility.

The wooden structures now taking shape form part of an increasingly desperate attempt by a multi-national, multi-agency team to control the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than 300 people are now classified as 'confirmed' or 'probable cases'0:59

Video:Through the eyes of an ebola doctor

More than 300 people have been infected by this highly contagious virus and the city’s sole Ebola treatment centre, run by medical charity ALIMA, is overwhelmed.

On the day of our visit, 92 people were admitted – but the centre only has 60 beds.

Image:Baby Pascale was one of those declared free of Ebola and discharged from the centre

The new complex, which is funded by Medecins Sans Frontieres, will screen what experts call the “suspect cases” and it should help to reduce some of the pressure.

Nonetheless, this epidemic will soon rank as the worst Ebola outbreak in Congo’s history.

The government and its international partners are relying on local surveillance and vaccination teams to stop it spreading.

:: ‘Under pressure’ doctors struggling to deal with Congo Ebola outbreak

A 46-year-old woman who died from the virus is taken away
Image:A 46-year-old woman who died from the virus is taken away

The idea is pretty simple: track down everyone who has been in contact with an Ebola victim and provide them with a newly available vaccine developed in Canada.

It has not been approved by major health authorities but it has shown itself to be effective in early trials.

There is problem with the plan however. First, many city residents do not want to be tracked down and secondly, they do not want the vaccine.

Image:When Sky visited 92 people were admitted but the centre only has 60 beds

I spoke to the leader of one these community surveillance units, Dr Maneno Muhindangabo Henry, and asked him whether he was encountering resistance.


“That really is our breakfast every day,” he said.

“Lots of people reject the vaccine and they talk a lot about it. They say if you take it you will become infertile, it will kill you, it has bad effects.”

Dr Henry’s feedback constitutes one big reason why this outbreak is so unpredictable. Many here simply refuse to protect themselves.

preview image5:08

Video:Full report: Doctors battle with Ebola outbreak in Congo

Beni resident James Kituvi told me that some of his neighbours claim the vaccine is satanic.

“They think they are going to be killed,” he said. “The vaccine is from Satan.”

There is another reason why the Congolese government and international NGOs have found this epidemic so difficult to grapple with.

Beni is in a warzone. The consequence of armed rebellion and ethnic killing dating back the 1990s; two separate rebel militias – called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the “Mai Mai” – make frequent incursions into the city.


Two weeks ago, a militia attack resulted in the deaths of 13 civilians and the abduction of 12 children from the city.

The head of World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told Sky News he has never had to deal with an epidemic so complicated.

“The situation with this outbreak is very different from other outbreaks,” he said.

More from Democratic Republic of Congo

  • ‘Under pressure’ doctors struggling to deal with Congo Ebola outbreak

  • Why the deadly disease Ebola keeps coming back

  • WHO vows to fight new Ebola outbreak in DR Congo

  • “Even the west Africa outbreak (of 2014-15) because there is a serious security problem here, an active army conflict and that complicates the situation.”

The risk is obvious. In a desperately unstable environment, the Ebola virus spreads and the Beni outbreak turns into an international contagion.

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 10th, 2018 at 5:34 pm and is filed under Latest News.

Literature Literature archive

Lee TH, McGlynn EA, Safran DG. 2019 JAMA 321(6):539–540. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19186
MJ Bayefsky, LOGostin 2018 JAMA Pediatr. online Dec 28, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.4283
K I Hammanyero, S Bawa, F Braka, et al. 2018 BMC Public Health Vol 18 (Suppl 4) :1306

Videos Video archive

Key figures share their perspectives on a controversy that led to the suspension of Ebola vaccine clinical trials in Ghana.

Drs. Heidi Larson and Pauline Paterson of the Vaccine Confidence Project join episode 50 of the Public Health United podcast with Nina Martin, November 2017.

Drs. Larson and Paterson join a discussion on vaccine confidence at Hong Kong University.  September, 2015.

Subscribe to our mailing list

Click here to go to our GDPR-compliant signup form.

  • Recent Posts