Congo: Stealing From The Sick And Dying

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September 27, 2019: In Congo, as of a week ago there are 3,057 confirmed cases of Ebola ( hemorrhagic fever). Probable cases remain at 111, so 3,168 total cases. There have been 2,118 deaths, 2,007 confirmed and likely another 111 probable. In Uganda, there have been four confirmed cases and three confirmed fatalities.

Other statistics offer operational insight into the effort to combat the virus. Congo has ten laboratories with Ebola virus diagnostic capabilities. If that seems to be on the short side, it is. It testifies to the region’s scarce medical and health facilities. Here are some other illustrative numbers. During the week that ended on September 22, Congo’s health teams conducted 2,546,148 Ebola virus screenings. Since August 2018 Congolese teams have conducted over 98 million screenings. That impressive number indicates Congolese health teams have done a lot of potentially dangerous work.

Still, experience has shown the risk of Ebola transmission as very high at national (in Congo) and regional levels (central Africa) but low at the global level. Risk of geographic spread in central Africa has not diminished. Here's why: people cross borders and central Africa’s borders are porous. People cross borders to travel and trade. In central Africa’s case, there’s often a third reason: they are fleeing violence, frequently in large numbers.

Foreign aid groups like WHO (World Health Organization) have helped Congo’s nine neighboring nations develop national preparedness plans designed to halt the regional transmission of Ebola. Disease surveillance teams and rapid response teams are key elements in these plans. So is vaccination. Improving the cross-border collaboration by governments in the region is a must – meaning improving border controls.

WHO’s planning guidance was made available in early September and focuses on what it calls Priority 1 countries: Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. These countries border on eastern Congo’s Ebola “hot spots.” The Priority 2 countries are Congo’s other neighbors: Angola, Central African Republic. Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Tanzania and Zambia.

These countries have limited medical resources in terms of funding, personnel and facilities. WHO’s planning document notes that Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan have made progress in training response teams. However, all have gaps in preparedness – gaps like limited skills, supply shortfalls and surveillance limitations. Burundi, however, appears to be particularly vulnerable. The planning document states, bluntly, that in Burundi’s case “…Limited health literacy with poor knowledge about Ebola, both among health workers and communities, has aggravated the risk of transmission of the virus.” To be continued. (Austin Bay)

September 26, 2019: WHO warned that violence in eastern Congo threatens health workers and disrupts Ebola treatment and surveillance efforts. For example, violence impedes “safe burials” of people killed by the virus. The epidemic is not waning. New cases in Ituri province are approaching 60 a week.

September 25, 2019: Uganda has signed an agreement with Russia to develop non-military (electrical generation) nuclear energy in the country.

September 24, 2019: In southwest Congo, the return of Congolese refugees from Angola to their homes in the Kasai region continues. In late August the UN and the Congolese and Angolan governments signed a Tripartite Agreement to facilitate voluntary repatriation. By mid-September some 14,000 refugees had returned to the Kasai region from Angola’s Lunda Norte Province. An estimated 35,000 Congolese fled in 2017 but some of them have already returned to Kasai. Still, that leaves 15,000 to 20,000 in Angola.

September 23, 2019: Politics hinders the anti-Ebola epidemic effort. A non-governmental medical aid group accused WHO of rationing Ebola vaccine in the Congo and called for the formation of an independent international committee to coordinate vaccination efforts. WHO handles vaccine supplies in Congo and was accused of applying a rigid vaccine eligibility criteria. The accuser also argues drug manufacturers are able to provide more vaccine doses. WHO has yet to access these supplies. It was claimed that German company Merck could quickly send an additional 190,000 dose to Congo. According to the accusations, from 2,000 to 2,500 people could be inoculated daily but currently, only 500 to 1,000 are inoculated. WHO denies the accusations and says it is doing everything it can to bring vaccine doses into Congo and distribute them to Ebola threatened areas. For the record, in addition to the Merck vaccine, WHO advocates the use of a second Ebola vaccine produced by an American firm. The American drug is still at the drug trial stage but WHO’s doctors judge it to be effective. The Merck drug has been tested. All organizations involved in the vaccine supply and vaccination program know that corruption by Congolese elites has hindered the program. In July Congo’s health minister Dr. Oly Ilunga was replaced as head of the government’s Ebola epidemic response program. At the end of July, he resigned as health minister and harshly criticized WHO’s support for the second vaccine. He called WHO’s support unethical and suggested using unproven vaccines amounted to experimenting on Congolese citizens. Does he sound noble? In August prosecutors announced Ilunga was under investigation. He was subsequently charged with embezzlement of funds designated for the Ebola response program. Investigators said Ilunga “siphoned” $4.3 million. On September 14 he was arrested by police who suspected he was fleeing the country. Meanwhile, the new head of Congo’s counter-Ebola operation said that the latest thinking is the second vaccine can be used to vaccinate Congolese not living in epidemic areas. The government has tentatively decided to “deploy’ the second vaccine in mid-October in non-epidemic areas. The Merck vaccine would be used in epidemic-ridden areas and for people judged at “high risk” of contracting the virus. (Austin Bay)

September 22, 2019: A recent UN investigation of government abuse in Burundi condemned the Burundi government and president Pierre Nkurunziza in particular. Back in 2016, the UN began investigating Burundi’s political crisis and internal violence. Its new report accuses the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party, the Imbonerakure, of being Burundi’s primary perpetrator of violence against its own people. The Imbonerakure and National Intelligence Service officers are accused of committing summary executions by beating victims to death or murdering them with knives and firearms. They also engage in torture. The national police and local government administrative officials also commit numerous crimes, including sexual violence.

“Systemic attacks” deliberately target civilians – and it appears most of the victims are politically opposed to President Nkurunziza. That noted, the Commission believes Nkurunziza loyalists have “infiltrated and divided” Burundi’s political opposition and only political organizations judged “loyal to the Government” can participate in public politics.

At the bottom line, the Commission concluded Burundi’s internal situation echoes Burundi’s 1972 and 1993 genocides and the brutal civil war that ended in 2005.” The Commission warned that Burundi could have another wave of violence as the country’s 2020 elections approach. Bad news indeed. (Austin Bay)

September 19, 2019: In eastern Congo (South Kivu province), UN peacekeepers had two Ukrainian Mi-24 attack helicopters on standby alert at the Goma Airfield. The helicopters are tasked with aerial reconnaissance and “demonstration of power” operations. The helicopters recently participated in an operation targeting an illegal militia in Ituri province.

September 18, 2019: In Central African Republic (CAR), recent fighting has left at least 38 dead. Two rival groups, FPRC (Popular Front for the Renaissance of the CAR) and MLCJ (Movement of Central African Freedom Fighters for Justice) clashed in the town of Birao (near Sudan) over the weekend of September 14-15 and sporadic fighting continues. UN peacekeepers initially reported 23 dead. One peacekeeper was wounded. A clash between the militias on September 1 forced 13,000, people caught in the crossfire, to flee Birao. Interestingly enough, both the FPRC and NLJC signed the February 2019 CAR peace agreement.

In eastern Congo (North Kivu province), the army claimed to have killed Sylvestre Mudacumura, a senior Rwandan Hutu rebel commander indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. He was a senior commander in the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebels and allegedly killed on September 17 in an area about 60 kilometers from Goma. He was wanted on charges of torture, rape and pillage.

September 16, 2019: Angola announced that its national police intend to recruit 6,000 demobilized soldiers. So far the program has attracted nearly 2,600 candidates.

September 15, 2019: Uganda’s former Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura, is criticizing the U.S for sanctioning him on unproven allegations of corruption and bribery. The U.S. also alleges units he commanded committed atrocities. That allegation has some interesting details. The U.S. claims Kayihura had his men arrest and torture victims at police facilities. Kayihura denies the allegations and says the accusations are slander and are meant to defame him. The U.S. sanctions freeze his and his family’s U.S. assets and bans Kayihura and his family from traveling to America.

September 14, 2019: In Congo, police arrested former health minister Oly Ilunga. He faces charges he embezzled money designated for use by Congo’s Ebola response program. Police arrested Ilunga after receiving information he intended to flee the country in order to escape trial.

Uganda released 32 Rwandans as a gesture of goodwill prior to high-level diplomatic discussions scheduled to begin later this month. Uganda still contends the detained Rwandans illegally entered Uganda and remained in Uganda illegally. Rwanda claims Uganda has illegally arrested and tortured scores of its citizens.

September 13, 2019: Congo reported 3,002 confirmed Ebola cases to date with 1,974 confirmed deaths.

September 9, 2019: South Africa asked Rwanda to extradite two men investigators believe murdered Rwanda’s former chief of intelligence, Patrick Karegeya. The body was discovered in a Johannesburg hotel on January 1, 2014. South Africa said it had arrest warrants for the suspects, Ismael Gafaranga (nicknamed Apollo) and Alex Sugira.

September 8, 2019: In northwestern Congo (Equateur province), it was rumored that a drone aircraft delivered Ebola virus vaccine to the isolated town of Widjifake in August. Today the government confirmed the August 8 incident. The town has around 6,500 residents and it takes about four hours for a truck carrying medical supplies to cover the 40 kilometers from Mbandaka to Widjifake. That travel time assumes the jungle roads aren't mud and the small rivers are fordable. The first delivery drone used on the August 8 initial test took 20 minutes to fly from Mbandaka to Widjifake. The drone, which had vertical take-off and landing capability, flew back to Mbandaka. Four flights were conducted August 8 and the flights delivered a three month supply of vaccine – all of the doses delivered the medically prescribed temperature. By August 13 drones made another fifty round-trip flights, delivering other medical supplies.

September 5, 2019: In Congo, the opposition accused president Felix Tshisekedi's cabinet chief, Vital Kamerhe, of embezzling $15 million in government funds. The stolen money came from a $100 million government payment that was made in July.

September 3, 2019: In Congo, the UN reported that as of July 31, 873,987 Congolese are refugees in other African countries. From January 1 to July 31 of this year 62,291 Congolese fled to neighboring countries. Most of these new refugees went to Uganda.

 

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