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Press Release

Election-related violence in Democratic Republic of Congo forces IRC to temporarily suspend life-saving Ebola response programming

A suspension in programming could allow the disease to spread unabated and lead to an international health catastrophe

  • Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) election commission uses Ebola as reason to delay elections in two districts that are the epicenter of the outbreak, leading to violent protests and the targeting of Ebola response actors;
  • With almost 600 cases and more than 350 deaths, this outbreak is already the second deadliest in history;
  • The IRC is monitoring the situation and will resume operations as soon as it is safe.

New York, NY, December 29, 2018 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was forced to temporarily suspend its Ebola response and other programming in Beni and Butembo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after a delay in elections led to violent protests and attacks on aid workers working to combat the outbreak. IRC-supported facilities were damaged, destroyed, looted and burned, and health staff working in these facilities are afraid to continue following proper response protocols. The situation has become too dangerous for IRC staff to continue its life-saving work.

Bob Kitchen, Vice President of the Emergency Unit at the International Rescue Committee said,

“When the DRC election commission used Ebola as a reason to delay elections in Beni and Butembo, areas known to have more supporters of the opposition candidates, they politicized the outbreak and put a target on the back of Ebola responders working to combat the outbreak. It is unacceptable that this disease is being used as a political ploy, putting aid workers in immediate danger. The reaction by the Congolese people was a predictable outcome of this dangerous declaration. IRC staff have been advised to stop working and hibernate in their homes.

With almost 600 cases and more than 350 deaths, this outbreak is already the second deadliest in history. A suspension of programming will allow the disease to spread unabated, likely reaching major cities and spreading across international borders leading to a major international health catastrophe. Having been targeted themselves, staff in IRC-supported facilities are too scared to follow proper Ebola screening protocols. We are monitoring the situation daily and will be back to work as soon as it is safe to resume operations.”

DRC elections, originally scheduled for December 23, were already delayed by one week after a fire destroyed voting machines in the capital Kinshasa. But, on December 26 the election commission announced that while elections would move forward for December 30, voting in opposition-leaning areas would be delayed until March because of the outbreak. The commission did not specify how these one million votes would be counted come March when the results for presidential office will be confirmed in January.

The Congolese people in North Kivu have been under attack by armed groups for decades, and desperately need an administration that will tackle the violence they face head on. Many locals view the Ebola outbreak as a tactic by the administration to delay elections yet again and maintain power. The response has been riddled with complications involving attacks by armed groups and protests by community members against the government’s inability to prevent such attacks from killing civilians.

Leading on infection, prevention and control, the IRC is working in 49 health clinics, training health workers to recognize symptoms and safely triage and transfer suspected Ebola patients to treatment centers; as well as working in women’s protection and community sensitization.

The IRC has been working in Congo since 1996 responding to the humanitarian crisis in the east. It has since evolved into one of the largest providers of humanitarian assistance and post-conflict development, with life-saving programming in health, economic recovery, protection, and livelihoods.  

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.