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Ebola outbreak passes 900 cases amid urgent new warnings

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now passed 900 cases, and community mistrust and endemic conflict in the region continues to slow progress despite the availability of promising new treatment options.

Why it matters: This is the 2nd-largest outbreak of Ebola on record, and the first to occur in a country experiencing violent conflict, which is complicating response efforts.

The latest: On Thursday, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) held a press conference to warn of the failure to date of bringing the outbreak under control.

  • Despite treatments and a new vaccine, the NGO warned, more than 40% of new cases since the start of the year are community cases where the infected people are dying at home rather than in hospitals.
  • "In Katwa and Butembo — the epicenter of the epidemic — 43 percent of patients in the last three weeks had no known links to other cases, making it difficult for health actors to determine transmission patterns," MSF said in a press release.
  • “We have a striking contradiction,” said Joanne Liu, MSF International president, in the press release.
“On the one hand, we have a rapid and large outbreak response with new medical tools such as vaccines and treatments that show promising outcomes when people come early. On the other hand, people with Ebola are dying in their communities, and do not trust the Ebola response enough to come forward.”
Joanne Liu, MSF International president

Between the lines: Last week, MSF was forced to halt its Ebola treatment activities in 2 locations of North Kivu province after attacks against its treatment centers. Security incidents ticked up in February, MSF says.

  • The organization cites a variety of political, social and economic grievances in causing the volatile security situation, including the influx of resources solely to fight Ebola in a region with many other basic health needs, as well as the conduct of security forces working with health care workers.
  • “Ebola is a brutal disease, bringing fear and isolation to patients, families, and health care providers,” Liu said. “The Ebola response needs to become patient- and community-centered. Patients must be treated as patients, and not as some kind of biothreat.”

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