BENI, CONGO – Patients being monitored as possible Ebola patients fled a camp in eastern DR Congo on Thursday after it was attacked by demonstrators protesting further delays to the country’s election, the health ministry said.
Around 20 patients fled the center during the incident, at a holding center in the Beni region, the epicenter of this latest outbreak of the highly infectious and potentially fatal disease.
The incident followed the announcement that elections planned for Sunday in the region had once again been postponed because of local unrest, as well as the Ebola outbreak.
At least three tents were ransacked on the edge of the site, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and a heavy police presence was patrolling the site after the incident, an AFP correspondent noted.
“Of 24 patients, 17 had tested negative (for Ebola) once. They had to be tested a second time before being discharged,” said a health ministry spokeswoman.
“Four of them went home. Three other suspected cases were in too serious a case to flee,” the spokeswoman added.
But some of the demonstrators went into contaminated zones of the camp, according to one aid worker.
“The demonstrators wanted to attack the transit center” and burned some of the tents, the health ministry said.
Kigali declared the Ebola epidemic in August 2018 and it has already claimed 356 lives. That has generated concern that the disease could spread to other major towns in the region, such as Goma and Kisangani and even neighboring Uganda.
Many local people have been reluctant to be vaccinated and others have resisted the idea of secure burials for victims of the disease.
The city and region of Beni has also been the target of deadly attacks on civilians by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an armed group blamed for hundreds of killings since 2014.
On Wednesday, the country’s electoral commission cited the unrest in the region and the Ebola outbreak as the reasons it was further postponing national elections there.
However the vote will continue to take place in the rest of the country as scheduled on Sunday, and the next president will be sworn in on Jan. 18, the commission said.