As the Ebola Virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continues to burn through the country’s eastern provinces, the United Nations has taken a more active role in responding to the emergency.
On Thursday, the U.N. officially designated veteran U.N. diplomat David Gressly as the Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator. Gressly, an American citizen who spent years in Africa working for the U.N., will be tasked with coordinating response efforts along with groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO). He’ll also lead the security mission to ensure the safety of patients and aid workers.
“The Ebola response is working in an operating environment of unprecedented complexity for a public health emergency—insecurity and political protests have led to periodic disruptions in our efforts to fight the disease,” said Gressly in a WHO press release. “Therefore, an enhanced UN-wide response is required to overcome these operating constraints and this includes moving senior leadership and operational decision making to the epicenter of the epidemic in Butembo. We have no time to lose.”
While some people might see the appointment of an international Ebola chief as a positive step, current response efforts remained bogged down by militia violence, and a population that remains skeptical of government officials. Earlier this week, a team of workers responsible for burying deceased Ebola patients were attacked. According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, this is the third burial team targeted since the outbreak began.
Burial teams are not the only responders facing violence. Ebola treatment centers in affected areas faced arson attacks, and local militias assaulted aid workers. These attacks add intense pressure to medical workers, who already experience extreme danger while caring for patients. However, as violence moves to the forefront of the aid workers’ minds, some are neglecting to wear proper personal protective equipment and use adequate decontamination procedures. As a result, the virus is infecting more people, including health care staff.
As of this writing, more than 1,800 people were infected by the Ebola Virus in the DRC. Of those, 1,241 died. More than 120,000 doses of the Ebola vaccine have been administered, and the DRC’s minister of health told WHO officials his country prefers the Merck-manufactured vaccine. He asked the drug be given full licensure, as it’s currently classified as experimental, according to a report from Reuters.