LONDON, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – Global health teams competing against the world's second largest Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo fear that an electoral conflict will deepen public mistrust and allow the epidemic to lose control.
Promoting trust in health authorities is essential in combating a disease that can spread furiously through communities where local services are frugal and patients are often afraid to come forward to government or international response teams.
"When you have political instability, public health always suffers," says Jeremy Farrar, a contagious disease expert who recently visited Eastern Congo with a World Health Organization leadership team.
Without public trust, he said, the Congo epidemic could kill many hundreds of people.
The December 30 elections had to mark Congo's first undisputed democratic transfer of power after 18 years of chaotic rule by President Joseph Kabila.
But accusations of fraud and calls for a recount threaten more volatility and violence after opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner.
"The worst scenario is that political instability persists, distrust grows … and then there is nothing that prevents the epidemic from becoming embedded in a large urban center and taking off like in West Africa," Farrar said.
"WINS CAN BE LOST"
385 people have already been killed in the outbreak of Ebola in Eastern Congo, which began six months ago and has infected at least 630 people according to WHO data. The death rate in this epidemic – by far the largest Congo ever seen, and the second largest in the world in history – is more than 60 percent. Ebola spreads through contact with body fluids. It causes hemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. The outbreak is concentrated in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
There are some signs of case numbers in the city of Beni in North Kivu that can flatten, but experts from the WHO are cautious.
They say that the apparent calm can be due to people who fall ill but do not seek a correct diagnosis and treatment.
The West African Ebola outbreak, which Farrar meant, lasted for two years from 2014. It infected 28,000 people and killed more than 11,300 people in an epidemic that ravaged Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, and sporadically spread to several other African countries and the United States. States and Europe.
The WHO says that the risk of spreading the disease remains "very high" at national and regional level and that it urgently cooperates with the Congo and its neighboring countries – Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan – to do everything possible to prevent that weather happens.
Spokesman Tarik Jasarevic of the WHO said that 25 million people have already been screened for Ebola at border controls with the neighboring countries of Congo. Vaccination campaigns have also begun for health professionals in Uganda and South Sudan.
Jasarevic also said that multiple threats to the responsiveness of response teams to find, treat and prevent cases of Ebola infection are particularly worrying for the situation in Congo: "Profits can be lost if we suffer from a period of prolonged uncertainty," he said. (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)