A fresh round of deadly violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province – the epicenter of an Ebola outbreak – continues to hamper efforts to stamp out the disease.
The Congolese Ministry of Health says at least 12 people were killed Saturday and a dozen were kidnapped in the city of Beni after an armed incursion by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group active in the area.
“We condemn this attack. Civilians are #NotaTarget. Everyone should work to achieving peace and fight Ebola,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization Director-General, in a tweet on Sunday. He said he was briefed by the DRC’s health minister.
The health ministry said that residents of Beni took to the streets on Sunday to protest the killings and abductions, destroying several administrative buildings and forcing Ebola response to be temporarily halted.
The fighting is part of a continuing rise in insecurity in the volatile North Kivu province that has made the Ebola response particularly complex and dangerous.
“This latest attack is the 10th major incident of insecurity in or around Beni the epicenter of the #Ebola outbreak in the past 2 months,” Dr. Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy Director-General of emergency preparedness and response, stated in a tweet posted Sunday, adding “it will be very hard to stop the outbreak if this violence continues.”
There have been 232 reported cases of hemorrhagic fever in the region – 202 confirmed and 35 probable – including 118 deaths since the outbreak that was declared on August 1st, according to the DRC’s Ministry of Health. Sixty-three people have been cured.
Last week a panel of experts decided not to classify the current Ebola situation as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The emergency committee reviewed the latest information on the most recent outbreak and determined that it is of regional concern but not of global concern at this time.
Personnel from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who have been stationed in the DRC to help control the ongoing outbreak were pulled back from the worst affected areas because of safety concerns.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told CNN last week that the recent spike in violent incidents in the country had made health workers’ response more difficult, increasing risk of the disease spreading not only in the DRC but also in neighboring countries.
North Kivu province is at the center of the current outbreak, though some cases have been reported in neighboring Ituri province, according to WHO. The two provinces, which are among the most populated in the nation, border Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
On average, Ebola – which causes fever, severe headache and in some cases hemorrhaging – kills about half of those infected, but case fatality rates in individual outbreaks have varied from 25% to 90%.
CNN’s Susan Scutti contributed to this report.