More than a thousand people have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus in two eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in an outbreak that has claimed hundreds of lives and flummoxed public health officials.
The Congolese health ministry said Sunday the virus has killed at least 629 people and infected 1,009 people, making it by far the worst Ebola outbreak in Congo’s modern history, and the second-worst outbreak in the world, behind an epidemic that struck three West African countries beginning in 2014.
Worryingly, the number of cases rose precipitously in recent weeks, spreading faster than in December and January.
Health officials say the rising case count comes as they struggle to make inroads with communities that are not used to dealing with Ebola, or even with aid workers hoping to help. Those officials have been frustrated in recent weeks as the epicenter of the outbreak moved south from the town of Beni to the cities of Butembo and Katwa.
More than half the cases that have emerged in the last three weeks came in those two cities. Two other smaller cities, Masereke and Mandima, account for most of the rest of the new cases over the past 21 days.
“The current epicenter of the epidemic is still very squarely in the twin cities of Butembo and Katwa,” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s assistant director general for emergencies who is overseeing the global response to the outbreak, told The Hill in an interview Saturday. “We’ve had real challenges in Butembo and Katwa and the surrounding areas.”