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Ebola cases cross the 2,000 mark in DR Congo

DR Congo’s health ministry said late on Monday that it had recorded more than 2,000 cases of Ebola, two-thirds of which had been fatal

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The town of Butembo is at the heart of the Ebola crisis in the North-Kivu province.

DR Congo’s health ministry said late on Monday that it had recorded more than 2,000 cases of Ebola, two-thirds of which had been fatal since the disease broke out in the country 10 months ago. “Since the start of the epidemic, the total number of cases stands at 2,008, of which 1,914 have been confirmed (by lab test) while 94 are probable,” it said in an update.

“In all, there have been 1,346 deaths (1,252 confirmed and 94 probable) and 539 people have recovered.” The ministry said it was important to retain the overall perspective, despite the breaching of the symbolic threshold of 2,000 cases.

Family members look on as they watch the deceased victim of the Ebola virus being buried
Family members look on as they watch the deceased victim of the Ebola virus being buried on May 16, 2019 in Butembo. – The city of Butembo is at the epicentre of the Ebola crisis, the death toll of the outbreak to date is now over 1000 deaths. The Red Cross warned that critical underfunding could force it to cut vital work to rein in the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo at a time when case numbers are soaring. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Read: DR Congo citizens angered by top-security Ebola burials

“In recent weeks, the trend has been positive, although vigilance is still necessary,” it said. There have been fewer attacks on Ebola teams by armed groups, which means health workers have “recovered some of the lost time to contain the spread of the epidemic,” it said.

The epidemic was first declared in North Kivu province on August 1 and then spread to neighbouring Ituri, although there have not been any cases in neighbouring countries. Efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres, in which some staff have been killed and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams.

Health workers prepare to bury a coffin containing a victim of the ebola virus on May 16, 2019
Health workers prepare to bury a coffin containing a victim of the ebola virus on May 16, 2019 in Butembo. – The city of Butembo is at the epicentre of the Ebola crisis, the death toll of the outbreak to date is now over 1000 deaths. The Red Cross warned that critical underfunding could force it to cut vital work to rein in the deadly Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo at a time when case numbers are soaring. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Read: Over 1,000 deaths recorded in D.R. Congo Ebola epidemic

The outbreak is the 10th in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the disease was identified in 1976. It is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck three African countries between 2014-2016, leaving more than 11,300 people dead.

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Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa

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DR Congo's health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga. (AFP)

Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.

He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.

It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.

He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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Dozens feared dead in DR Congo train derailment

Witnesses at the scene and local media feared a hundred people could have been killed

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Dozens feared dead in DR Congo train derailment
(File photo)

A freight train derailed in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo early Thursday, killing stowaway passengers who were riding on it, in the latest rail tragedy to strike the nation, officials said.

But in a chaotic situation, estimates of the death toll varied widely, from 10 to a hundred.

“Another disaster! Derailing at 3 am (01:00 GMT) in Tanganyika (province) near Mayibaridi. Provisional toll: 50 dead and several injured,” the minister for humanitarian action, Steve Mbikayi, said in a tweet.

In contrast, the provincial governor, Zoe Kabila, who is the brother of former President Joseph Kabila, issued a tweet that said, “Correction… provisional toll 10 dead, 30 injured and three railcars overturned.”

But witnesses at the scene and local media feared a hundred people could have been killed.

READ: 24 dead in DR Congo train derailment

Victor Umba, the union head of the national rail company SNCC, said the freight train was travelling from the town of Nyunzu to the town of Niemba when two railcars fell on their sides, crushing many people underneath.

“Those who died in this derailment were stowaways. It is impossible for the SNCC to provide any kind of toll,” Umba told reporters.

He added that the SNCC’s chief was in the provincial capital of Kalemie trying to find a way to raise the carriages.

“It seems that many stowaways are trapped under the derailed carriages”.

Railways in the DRC have a poor record for safety, hampered by derelict tracks and decrepit locomotives, many of them dating from the 1960s.

In March, at least 24 people were killed and 31 were injured Sunday when a freight train carrying illegal passengers crashed in the central region of Kasai.

In November last year, 10 stowaways were killed and 24 injured near the eastern town of Samba when the brakes failed on a freight train.

In November 2017, 35 people were killed when a freight train carrying 13 oil tankers plunged into a ravine in southern Lualaba province.

Like many state companies in DR Congo, the SNCC is on the brink of bankruptcy.

READ: Train collision kills 13, injures others in Congo

After Kabila stepped down in January, its employees urged his successor, Felix Tshisekedi, to pay months of back wages. Its former head Sylvestre Ilunga is the country’s current prime minister.

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2 journalists arrested in Equatorial Guinea for interviewing a suspended judge

Melanio Nkogo and Ruben Dario Bacale were picked up a week ago after broadcasting an interview with a judge, Nazario Oyono

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2 journalists arrested in Equatorial Guinea for interviewing a suspended judge

Two journalists working for a private TV station in Equatorial Guinea are being held by police after they interviewed a suspended judge, sources told reporters on Wednesday.

The country has one of the world’s worst records for media rights, ranking 165th out of 180 on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Raul Obiang, head of news for Asonga TV, said journalists Melanio Nkogo and Ruben Dario Bacale were picked up a week ago after broadcasting an interview with a judge, Nazario Oyono.

Oyono was suspended on August 21 by the President of the Supreme Court for “irregularities.”

The pair are being held in the central police station in the town of Bata, Raul Obiang said.

He quoted the deputy head of security there as saying the two were being held because “they did work they shouldn’t have done.”

RSF called on the authorities to free the pair, adding that their arrest “shows the extreme vulnerability of journalists” working in Equatorial Guinea.

It recalled the case of noted cartoonist Ramon Nse Esono Ebale, who was jailed for five months before being released in March 2018.

Asonga is the only privately-owned TV and radio station in Equatorial Guinea, which has been run by iron-fisted President Teodoro Obiang Nguema for 40 years.

The station’s owner is his son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang, who many say is being groomed for succession.

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