Residents flee as suspected cases of Ebola outbreak in Congo grow

Residents flee as suspected cases of Ebola outbreak in Congo grow
  1. Residents flee as suspected cases of Ebola outbreak in Congo grow
    The World Health Organization said Ebola has killed three and sickened 20 people in the Congo’s north since late A…

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Ebola drove Kevin Balenge, his wife and three children to get to this capital city as fast as they could to try to outrun a suspected new outbreak.

“We can’t stay here because there are no hospitals, and once you get the virus you simply die,” said Balenge, from Bas-Uele province in the north of the country, about 51 hours away from Kinshasa.

“Residents are still not aware of the virus and they do not know the precautions (to take)," he added. "Very many people are going to die here.”

Balenge was among residents from the northern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo who are hitting the road after the World Health Organization (WHO) said suspected cases of Ebola have killed three and sickened 20 people in the country’s north since late April. Officials are tracking another 125 people thought to have contracted the virus.

The number could be higher because officials have little access to the remote area.

"As of now we do not know the full extent of the outbreak,” said Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program. "There are only (12 miles) of paved roads in this area and virtually no functioning telecommunications. So this is going to be an enormous challenge.”

The outbreak was this Central African nation’s eighth since 1976. Ebola killed a total of 811 people in those episodes, according to the WHO. Sixty-six people died in the outbreak in 2014.

Between 2014 and 2016, an Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone infected at least 28,000 people and killed more than 11,000.

The potential rapid spread of the disease and the pace of the infection among its victims terrified Balenge.

“I’m really afraid of contracting Ebola because it kills very fast,” he said. “We have decided to move and start a new life somewhere. We can’t risk again like the last time it attacked us.”

Relatives of families who work and stay in the capital, Kinshasa, have been making arrangements for their families in the north to join them to avoid contracting the virus.

Dressed in a black coat over his tracksuit, Roland Bashala, 38, called his wife who has been staying in the north near the border.

“I need her to come tomorrow with our children so that I don’t lose them all,” he said. “Ebola is very dangerous and it can spread throughout the region.”

But Kinshasa residents feared that people fleeing the affected areas could bring the virus to their city.

About 2,750 refugees have flooded into northern Congo recently following sectarian violence in the border city of Bangassou, in the Central African Republic, according to the United Nations. It’s not clear if the refugees have carried the virus to the region.

“Ebola could spread throughout the country if the government doesn’t take precautions by screening anyone who enters the city,” said Devina Katobu, a doctor in Kinshasa. “Already people are living in fear, and are still moving from one place to another to seek safe haven. I think they might…

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