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Non-profit group: Nearly 100 children dead in latest Ebola outbreak

By Clyde Hughes
Non-profit group: Nearly 100 children dead in latest Ebola outbreak
A nonprofit organization says nearly 100 children have died of the Ebola virus outbreak so far in the Congo. File Photo by STR/EPA-EFE

Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Nearly 100 children have died of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently in what's now documented as the second-worst spread of the deadly disease.

Save Our Children, a global non-profit which has been fighting the latest flare-up of the disease in Africa, said in a statement Sunday that the number could grow because of a spike in the outbreak last month.

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Officials confirmed at least 785 Ebola cases over the past six months, resulting in 484 deaths. Health officials identified 120 new cases in January. Overall, 97 children have died in the outbreak.

"We are at a crossroads," Heather Kerr, Save the Children's country director in the DRC, said. "If we don't take urgent steps to contain this, the outbreak might last another six months, if not the whole year.

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"The DRC is a country suffering from violence and conflict and an extreme hunger crisis -- some 4.6 million children are acutely malnourished. The main concerns for many people are safety and making sure they have enough to eat. But Ebola has to be a priority too."

A United Nations report said recently nearly 900 people had died over a three-day period in December due to ethnic violence. Fighting between the Banunu and Batende communities in Yumbi territory left at least 890 people dead and 82 injured.

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Fighters burned or pillaged 465 houses and other structures, including two schools, a healthcare center, a market and an election office. The presidential election in parts of the territory was called off due to the violence.

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To make matters more complicated, the DRC elected new President Felix Tshisekedi last month to replace longtime leader Joseph Kabila under a cloud of controversy. Rival opposition candidate Martin Fayulu, who finished second in the December vote, urged supporters to protest and said Tshisekedi struck a backroom deal to claim victory.

The current spread is the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC and the most severe in the central African nation since scientists first identified the virus near the Ebola River 40 years ago. The worst Ebola outbreak occurred between 2014 and 2016 and spread across several West African nations. It ultimately killed more than 11,300 people.

"It is paramount to convince communities that Ebola is an urgent and real concern," Kerr said. "People have disrupted funerals because they didn't believe the deceased had succumbed to the virus. ... We have to scale up our efforts to reach out to the vocal youth and community leaders to build trust and to help us turn this tide."

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