Ebola Crisis Worsens, Threatens Major Tanzanian Port City

Updating "Congo War Threatens Progress Against Ebola"

The ebola crisis in the eastern Congo is continuing to rage, despite new efforts to control the outbreak. Ebola cases are still slowly mounting, with 39 cases and 22 deaths between September 16 and 22. Even more alarmingly, there are now reports of possible ebola deaths in the major international port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Tanzania was not even among the countries previously ranked by the WHO as most vulnerable to the spread of the epidemic (those being Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda, which have busy border crossings near which ebola cases have been reported.) Advisories against travel to the country have been issued by the US and UK governments.

The main cause appears to be ongoing violence and insecurity in the region, continuing what Doctors Without Borders referred to as a “clear increase in violence and rape” in 2018. One major cause is the increased international demand for coltan, a mineral used in electronics whose primary reserves are found in the eastern Congo. This chaos has meant that healthcare workers increasingly need to negotiate with Mai-Mai, local militias that protect villages from other armed groups.

Conflict is also brewing between rival aid organizations. Doctors Without Borders has accused the WHO of rationing supplies of the newly-developed vaccine. They claim that, while enough vaccine is available for 2,500 people every day, only a fraction of this number are receiving it – something that the WHO staunchly denies. Meanwhile, Congolese former health minister Oly Olunga has been arrested on charges of embezzling funds intended for ebola control.

On the positive side, a new two-step vaccine, formerly rejected by Olunga, is currently being tested in Uganda and will be introduced in the Congo next month. In the Congo itself, a smartphone app called Go.Data is helping healthcare workers to trace contacts for vaccination in a more convenient and discreet way than with paper forms.

On September 23, the Senate unanimously approved the Ebola Eradication Act, which directs USAID to provide assistance in combating the epidemic. Senator Bob Menendez, the bill’s sponsor, claims that the White House had failed to authorize enough assistance earlier.

Morgan E. Hunter received her PhD in Classics from the University of California at Berkeley in 2019. She also tweeted as @Molotov_1917 as part of the award-winning #1917LIVE Twitter project that reconstructed the daily events of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of the Russian Civil War.