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Why Ebola is continuing to spread in the Congo

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on June 20, 2019 - Duration: 03:05s

Why Ebola is continuing to spread in the Congo

The persistence of Congo's Ebola outbreak and its deadly spread to Uganda in recent days show how societal issues are as crucial as scientific advances in controlling disease outbreaks, specialists in global public health say.

Anna Bevan reports.

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Why Ebola is continuing to spread in the Congo

The effort to stop the latest outbreak of Ebola -- the second largest in history -- is hitting a barrier.

Despite huge medical advances in controlling the spread of the disease, health officials say it's society - the human factor - that is proving in some ways, the most difficult.

Reuters health correspondent Kate Kelland: (SOUNDBITE) KATE KELLAND, REUTERS HEALTH CORRESPONDENT, SAYING: "The societal issues we're talking about here really are about the way people behave and the way people feel: it's about mistrust or confidence, it's about fear, it's about habits and customs. And what public health officials are saying is that you can have all the best scientific tools in the world: you can have a vaccine, you can have drugs, you can have treatment, you can have clinics, but if you can't bring people with you and you can't win their confidence and their trust then you can't put those tools into action to stop the outbreak." Scientists worked quickly to develop cutting edge treatments that they had hoped would prevent or halt future outbreaks of the virus, after Ebola devastated parts of West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

But the current epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo is continuing to spread relentlessly - despite the scientific advances.

And it's now claimed lives in neighboring Uganda.

The World Health Organization says mistrust of authorities in the Congo, even attacks on healthcare workers, and patients avoiding treatment centers are all exacerbating the problem.

(SOUNDBITE) KATE KELLAND, REUTERS HEALTH CORRESPONDENT, SAYING: "What experts are saying is that global public health has changed and mainly that's to do with connectivity: it's about more trade and travel which means people move around more nationally and internationally and it also means there's more information flowing there's good information and bad information but there's a lot more of it out there.

Now more than ever it's important to win public trust so that the scientific advances that are being made can be put to use to protect public health." Making matters worse, some of the affected regions are hotbeds of militant activity.

Treatment centers have been repeatedly attacked by armed militiamen and community members who think Ebola is a conspiracy against them.

And have undermined efforts to contain it.

(SOUNDBITE) KATE KELLAND, REUTERS HEALTH CORRESPONDENT, SAYING: "The key thing is to get into the communities that are affected and win their trust, try to understand where their fears are coming from, try to give them good information and what the public health officials in this outbreak are trying to do is get local communities to engage with leaders, with people who have been directly affected by the disease or have been vaccinated who can then help their peers understand that vaccinations can protect you, treatments can help and that coming forward if you're feeling ill is the best way to stop spreading the disease and your best chance of surviving it." The challenge of containing Ebola in the Congo has been compared with controlling the spread of cholera in Yemen and measles in the United States.

The barriers are often more social than scientific.

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