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Expand chart
Data: DRC Ministry of Health; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon and Harry Stevens/Axios

Worries over the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have spiked after violence surrounding last weekend's elections led to hundreds of refugees flooding bordering countries and caused DRC and international health workers to withdraw completely in some areas.

Why it matters: Efforts to treat and contain Ebola had been successful in the hotspot city of Beni during the early weeks of December, but experts say recent events have likely taken a significant toll on progress. That includes the government's move to reportedly shut down the country's internet in the wake of the election violence.

The big picture: Jessica Ilunga, spokesperson for DRC Ministry of Health, told Axios earlier this week that the protests have forced health workers to halt key response activities like "responding to alerts, contact tracing, vaccination and safe and dignified burials" — suspensions that could allow the virus to spread.

Attacks against health care workers have also been growing lately, partly due to simmering tensions due to the inability to vote and misinformation, Ilunga says.

"There have been rumors in the community, sometimes spread by local politicians to boost their popularity, that Ebola was created by the national government in Kinshasa to kill the Nande population, which is the majority ethnic group in that region. ... With the decision [to postpone elections in some areas], the population felt like those rumors were true after all and that’s probably why they expressed their anger towards health facilities and agents, who have been helping them from the beginning."
— Jessica Ilunga

What they're saying: Jennifer Nuzzo, public health expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Axios there was a "little bit of hope" a couple weeks ago when concentrated efforts reduced new infection rates, but that the situation is now "dire."

  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — whose expertise is "unmatched when it comes to Ebola" — must take on-the ground action as the change in migration patterns increases the spread of the virus, Nuzzo says.

While some CDC personnel were moved to more secure locations "when armed conflict threatened the safety of staff," some still remain, CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes tells Axios.

  • That includes personnel working directly with the DRC's Ministry of Health, staff in the World Health Organization's emergency office, and a senior CDC doctor working with USAID’s DART team on the ground in Kinshasa.
"Everyone appreciates the importance of having CDC experts supporting the outbreak response efforts as directly as possible, and there is a mutual desire to provide the best resources to fight the outbreak in the DRC."
— Benjamin Haynes

Go deeper:

Go deeper

DOJ seizes 36 U.S. website domains for Iranian government disinformation

Iran's President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference at Shahid Beheshti conference hall in Tehran on Monday. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

American officials seized 36 news website domains linked to Iran's government for spreading disinformation as part of a propaganda campaign, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The action comes at a time of heightened tension between the two countries, with Iran's hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday ruling out negotiating over missiles or meeting with President Biden as the two nations hold talks on returning Tehran to the 2015 nuclear deal.

NYT: Khashoggi's killers had paramilitary training in U.S.

A vigil for journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, following his killing in 2018 in Turkey. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Several Saudis who took part in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had paramilitary training in the U.S. under a State Department contract a year before his 2018 death, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: While there's no evidence the department knew that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned Saudi officials to detain, kidnap and torture dissidents in 2017, the approval of such training underscores how "intensely intertwined" the U.S. has become with a nation known for human rights abuses, per the NYT.

U.S. attorney finalist trashes Labor secretary

Rachael Rollins and Marty Walsh. Photos: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images (Rollins); Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images (Walsh)

A finalist for U.S. attorney in Boston is publicly trashing the city's former mayor — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Why it matters: Rachael Rollins’ approach is perpetuating scrutiny of a troubled Cabinet secretary and fellow Democrat — and hints at the independence she may exhibit if tapped for top federal prosecutor for the eastern half of Massachusetts.

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