Kinshasa, May 4 (AP/UNB) — More than 1,000 people have died from Ebola in eastern Congo since August, the country's health minister said Friday as hostility toward health workers continues to hamper efforts to contain the second-deadliest outbreak of the virus.
Health Minister Oly Ilunga told The Associated Press that four deaths in the outbreak's epicenter of Katwa helped push the death toll to 1,008. Two more deaths were reported in the city of Butembo.
The outbreak declared almost nine months ago already had caused the most deaths behind the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa's Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia that killed more than 11,000 people.
A volatile security situation and deep community mistrust have hampered efforts to control the epidemic in eastern Congo. Ebola treatment centers have come under repeated attack, leaving government health officials to staff clinics in the hotspots of Butembo and Katwa.
International aid organizations stopped their work in the two communities because of the violence. A Cameroonian epidemiologist working with WHO was killed last month during an assault on a hospital in Butembo.
Insecurity has become a "major impediment" to controlling the Ebola outbreak, Michael Ryan, WHO's health emergencies chief, told reporters in Geneva earlier Friday.
He said 119 attacks have been recorded since January, 42 of them directed at health facilities, while 85 health workers have been wounded or killed. Dozens of rebel groups operate in the region, and political rivalries in part drive's community rejection of health personnel.
"Every time we have managed to regain control over the virus and contain its spread, we have suffered major, major security events," Ryan said. "We are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission" of the disease.
WHO has said the most recent Ebola outbreak remained contained to eastern Congo even as the number of cases rises in a dense, highly mobile population near the border with Uganda and Rwanda.
Many people fear going to Ebola treatment centers, choosing instead to stay at home and risk transmitting the disease from the virus to caretakers and neighbors.
Residents of highly volatile Butembo believe Ebola was brought to the city on purpose, said Vianney Musavuli, 24.
"I am deeply saddened to learn that the number of Ebola deaths has exceeded 1,000," Musavuli said "The problem is that people here in this area believe Ebola is a political thing, and that's why residents are still attacking the teams in retaliation."
Area residents were blocked from taking part in a January presidential election, with Congo's government citing safety concerns. Some wonder why money is poured into fighting Ebola when many more people die each year of malaria and other preventable diseases.
Insecurity also has prevented vaccination teams from getting to some areas, further limiting the health response. Still, more than 109,000 people have received an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine. Ryan said authorities are looking at introducing another one.
He called for more help from Congo and elsewhere to close an "urgent, critical gap" of some $54 million in containment funding.
Khartoum, Apr 25 (AP/UNB) — Sudan's ruling military council said three of its members resigned Wednesday amid heightened tensions with the organizers of protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir after three decades in power.
The announcement came after generals met with leaders of an opposition group that had suspended talks over the weekend while accusing the military of failing to make a clean break with al-Bashir's regime.
The Sudanese Professionals Association and its allies, which organized the four months of escalating demonstrations that led the military to remove al-Bashir from power April 11, returned to the talks a day before planned mass rallies.
The association had said before the meeting that it would announce its own transitional governing council Thursday, but it was unclear if that plan had changed. A spokesman for the group, Sarah Abdel-Jaleel, said she could not provide details on what was discussed at the meeting.
A military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Shamseldin Kibashi, said after the meeting that Lt. Gen. Omar Zain al-Abdin, the council's chief negotiator, and two officers on a council-affiliated political committee, submitted their resignations. He identified the other two as Lt. Gen. Jalal el-Din el-Sheikh, deputy head of the infamous National Intelligence and Security Services, and Gen. el-Tayeb Babiker, the county's police chief.
The Sudanese Professionals Association had said that Zain al-Abdin was the head of al-Bashir's party within the military and was "trying to bring back the deposed regime."
The spokesman said the military council agreed with the protest leaders to create a joint committee to tackle the political disputes.
The military council has said it is in talks with all Sudan's political parties to name a prime minister and civilian government to run the country for two years.
The Sudanese Professionals Association has instead called for the formation of a legislative council in which at least 40 percent of the members would be women. It would draft laws and oversee a Cabinet of technocrats until a new constitution is written.
Khartoum, Apr 22 (AP/UNB) — Tensions escalated in Sudan on Monday after talks broke down between protesters and the country's military rulers, who called for the reopening of roads blocked by sit-ins established during the uprising that drove President Omar al-Bashir from power.
The protesters, who have been rallying outside the military headquarters in Khartoum since April 6, have demanded a swift handover of power to civilians. A military council has ruled since al-Bashir was forced from office on April 11 after nearly four months of mass protests against his 30-year rule.
The military council issued a statement Monday calling for the "immediate opening of the roads and removal of the barricades" around the sit-in in Khartoum. It asked that other roads, closed by similar protests across the country, also be opened.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which has led the protests, vowed to carry on with their sit-in. The umbrella of professional unions called for a march Tuesday and mass rallies on Thursday, when it plans to announce its own civilian transitional council in a challenge to the military.
Large crowds gathered outside the military headquarters overnight, singing and dancing as protest leaders delivered fiery speeches. Qurashi Diefallah, a protester, said the army is "just an extension of the regime, which stole 30 years from us."
The organizers on Sunday suspended talks with the military council, saying it had failed to meet their demands for an immediate transfer to a civilian government.
Spokesman Mohammed al-Amin Abdel Aziz said the military council "is delaying its response to our proposals, saying that they are considering proposals from all political forces," he said.
That has raised fears among the protesters that Islamists and other factions close to al-Bashir, who is now jailed in Khartoum, will have a role in the transition. They fear that could leave much of his regime intact or pave the way for another strongman.
The SPA has instead called for a Cabinet of technocrats to run the country's daily affairs. They want a legislative council, in which at least 40 percent of the membership would be women, to draft laws and oversee the Cabinet until a new constitution is written.
Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council, said Sunday it would hand over power immediately to a "civilian government agreed by all political forces."
Burhan said the council had received "more than 100 visions" from various political factions for the future the county, including that of the protest organizers. He said the military would respond to proposals within a week.
Those remarks angered the protesters, who saw them as an effort to sideline the SPA by portraying it as one of many political factions.
Hani Raslan, an expert on Sudan at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said the inclusion of figures once close to al-Bashir in the military council, and its outreach to political parties that had taken part in a national dialogue with al-Bashir, had angered the protesters.
"The protesters say the council, by these actions, is reproducing the old regime," he said. "The council could accelerate some measures against al-Bashir's regime to calm down the situation and get the SPA back to the negotiation table."
Johannesburg, Apr 20 (AP/UNB) — Local media in South Africa report that at least 13 people are dead after part of a church collapsed.
Broadcaster News24 cites KwaZulu-Natal emergency medical services spokesman Robert McKenzie as saying heavy rainfall may have been to blame for the collapse Thursday night in Dlangubo.
The report says the collapse at the Pentecostal church occurred as an Easter season service was underway.
It cites McKenzie as saying six people were seriously injured.
Officials are on their way to the site of the collapse.
Geneva, Apr 13 (AP/UNB) — The ongoing Ebola outbreak in Congo does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency but is of "deep concern," the World Health Organization said Friday.
Following a meeting of its expert committee, the U.N. health agency called for efforts to be redoubled to stop the deadly virus, noting that the recent spike in Ebola cases raises the risk of spread to other countries.
The outbreak announced on Aug. 1 has become the second-deadliest in history, behind the West African one from 2014-16 that killed more than 11,300 people. Congo's health ministry on Thursday reported 1,206 confirmed and probable cases, including 764 deaths.
This is the second time the expert committee has decided this outbreak is not yet a global emergency. Committee chair Robert Steffen called Friday's decision unanimous and said the experts had feared making the declaration might even hurt response efforts. He did not give details but said experts were "moderately optimistic" the outbreak could be contained within a "foreseeable time."
Ahead of the WHO announcement, a top Red Cross official said he was "more concerned than I have ever been" about Ebola's possible regional spread.
Emanuele Capobianco, head of health and care at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, cited Congolese health ministry data showing 40 new cases over two days this week. He called that rate unprecedented in this outbreak.
To be designated a public health emergency of international concern, a situation must be "serious, unusual or unexpected," threaten to infect other countries and require "immediate international action."
Emergency declarations almost always boost global attention and donor funding. WHO has noted it is woefully short of the $148 million it says is needed to fight Ebola for the next six months. To date, the agency has only received $74 million.
This outbreak, occurring close to the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, has been like no other. Mistrust has been high in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before, and insecurity caused by rebel groups has hurt aid efforts.
Rebecca Katz, a global health security expert at Georgetown University, in a statement called WHO's decision disappointing, saying the U.N. agency and its experts were "taking too narrow of an interpretation" of what constitutes an international emergency. She called the difficulty of coordinating the response "deeply concerning."
Ahead of the announcement, Trish Newport, Doctors Without Borders' representative in Goma, a major crossroads city close to the outbreak, said that declaring a global emergency wouldn't necessarily help stop the epidemic.
"Bigger is not necessarily better," she said and called for a new approach, saying that after nine months of the same strategy "the epidemic is definitely not under control."
Doctors Without Borders is calling for patients to be treated in existing health centers rather than Ebola-specific clinics: "It's very clear that people do not like or trust the Ebola centers and they are not coming to be treated."
Newport said 75% of new Ebola cases have no obvious link to previous patients, meaning that officials have lost track of where the virus is spreading.
WHO's Dr. Michael Ryan, who heads the emergencies program, disputed that assessment, insisting that officials are eventually able to connect most Ebola cases to a previous patient after an arduous forensic process.
Previous global emergencies have been declared for the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, the emergence of Zika virus in the Americas and the international attempt to eradicate polio. WHO was criticized for not declaring the 2014 Ebola outbreak an international emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died and the disease had spilled across borders.
Tariq Riebl, who is based in a current Ebola hot spot, Butembo, for the International Rescue Committee, said a major obstacle to stopping the outbreak is that officials are simply unaware of how many Ebola cases there are.
"We're discovering people when it's way too late," he said, noting numerous cases were buried in secret and never reported to authorities. "Given the average number of cases we're seeing now, this is not going to be over for at least another six months or more."