Seven militiamen have been killed by the Congolese army after attacking health workers battling an Ebola outbreak that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.
Army spokesperson Major Mak Hazukay said ‘at least seven’ Mai-Mai fighters were killed on Wednesday morning in Butembo – a city at the epicentre of the outbreak.
International aid organisations such as Doctors without Borders have been forced to pull out of the city as violence in the region brings many response efforts to a halt.
Armed militiamen reportedly believe Ebola is a conspiracy against them and have repeatedly attacked health workers who are trying to fight the DRC’s second deadliest outbreak of the killer virus ever.
It comes as the DRC Health Ministry revealed 1,055 people had died from the virus following the outbreak last August.
A total of 1,055 people have died during the Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo since it began in August
Seven medics were killed on Wednesday in Butembo by militia fighters, as violence threatens to bring vaccinations to a halt. Pictured: Health workers marched in the city of Butembo in April after attackers shot dead a World Health Organization doctor
The outbreak appears to be getting worse as time goes on, with April seeing higher numbers of cases being diagnosed each week than at any point since the spread began in August
Health experts warn that because of security issues it has been difficult getting into some areas to vaccinate those most at risk.
Last month an attack on a hospital in Butembo killed a Cameroonian epidemiologist working for the World Health Organization (WHO).
As workers struggle to contain the virus, WHO has called for dramatic broadening of vaccinations.
The current Ebola outbreak is the second deadliest on record, after an epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in 2014-2016. Pictured: A health worker in a hazmat suit in the Congo
WHO WARNS IT MAY RUN OUT OF MONEY FIGHTING EBOLA OUTBREAK
The World Health Organization’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has warned the UN body is short of around $104million (£80m) it needs to keep fighting Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The funding gap must be filled so health workers can continue battling the virus to the end of July and beyond, Science reported.
‘We cannot intensify our efforts if we do not have enough funds,’ Dr Tedros said.
‘The current funding gap has meant that we have had to slow down preparedness activities in neighboring countries.’
The UK’s International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, echoed Dr Tedros’s sentiment and said other countries need to step up and contribute more.
She said this month: ‘The UK has been a major donor since the start. But this outbreak requires a truly global response if we’re to stop this threat.
‘It’s time for other countries to step up. Diseases like this do not respect borders and it’s in all of our interests to help contain the spread of Ebola.’
The UK Government has refused to disclose how much it is contributing to the effort.
It said a surge in cases showed the current strategy of vaccinating those known to be directly exposed to the virus was no longer working.
More than 111,000 people have already received the protective jab, through a so-called ring vaccination approach aimed at immunising every person who has been in contact with the sick.
But this has not proved enough to stop the highly contagious virus from spreading in regions of DRC wracked with insecurity.
Health workers are now implementing a ‘ring’ strategy, vaccinating anyone directly exposed to known cases of Ebola, and a second ring of those exposed to people in the first ring.
‘The number of new cases continues to rise, in part due to repeated incidents of violence affecting the ability of response teams to immediately identify and create vaccination rings around all people at risk of contracting Ebola,’ WHO said in a statement.
WHO experts have suggested giving the vaccine to entire neighbourhoods and villages where cases have been reported within the past 21 days.
Last week experts warned the outbreak in the Congo could end up as disastrous as the West Africa epidemic of 2014.
Dr Osman Dar, a global health expert at Chatham House and member of the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and Public Health England, said the death toll could spiral to rival the 11,310 who were killed in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone five years ago, he said.
On April 28, the Congo experienced its most devastating outbreak so far, with a record 27 cases diagnosed in a single day.
Dr Dar told MailOnline a lack of security where the outbreak is happening is the ‘key issue’ facing the organisations trying to stop it.
The response to the Ebola outbreak has been hit by multiple setbacks – the World Health Organization has warned it is in danger of running out of money, a doctor was killed earlier this month, and last week was the worst so far for the number of cases recorded
The 2014 outbreak in West Africa began when an 18-month-old boy in Guinea got infected by a bat in December 2013, and the illness quickly spread to neighbouring countries.
By the time the World Health Organization released its first situation report in August 2014, more than 3,000 people had been infected and 1,546 killed.
A year later the number of cases had rocketed to 28,073 and 11,290 people had died.